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Will outcomes: Can you make everyone happy ?

Given that every family is different, so, too, will be the attitudes of various family members regarding the provisions of a will in any instance.

In some cases, nothing but warm hugs and universal happiness will follow from the reading of a will, with every family member feeling cherished and fairly dealt with. In other cases, rancor and discord will envelop the room in which a will's details are being spilled forth. Dad did what?

The safest answer to the query whether every affected person can be rendered satisfied by a testator's pronouncement in a will is this: Sometimes.

The degree to which a will is generally perceived to have fundamentally and fairly done its purpose -- rationally and equitably distributed property, provided for heirs, lawfully avoided taxes, recognized special needs within a family and so forth -- will often be closely linked to pre-execution communications among family members.

That reality brings many estate planning attorneys to recommend candor and comprehensive discussion of planning-related concerns among family members well in advance of the moment when a will is finally opened or individuals first hear the details of a trust or other planning disposition.

A lack of communication -- accompanied by, often, long-lingering discord and antipathy among some family members -- can flatly spin a family out of control during and following the probate process. That is clearly evidenced, for example, in a recent media article discussing will inheritances that points out what can happen when adult children do not get along and a parent clearly favors one child over the others.

In that case, one sibling inherited all of a father's assets and, while feeling the wrath of a brother and sister, commented that he felt "half-guilty, half-smug about walking away with the lot."

Although many elements of estate planning can be uncertain, one thing is eminently clear: Purposeful and comprehensive planning that duly considers heirs and, when necessary, incorporates their views and feelings well in advance of triggering events, can result in estate outcomes that truly serve a family well.

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