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Proper estate planning could help minimize family conflict

People in Florida who prepare a will can find great comfort in knowing that they will be helping to take care of loved ones for many years to come. When a parent's will leaves estate and assets to an adult child, it can be a way of continuing as a positive influence on the family after passing away.

But what if the child is married and the parent doesn't like the spouse? What if the child is no longer highly involved with the spouse, but remains legally married?

The laws of marriage and property vary from state to state. Some states treat assets that come into a marriage as community property, meaning that it is owned equally by both spouses. Generally, there is an exception for inherited property if the deceased person's will lists only one spouse by name.

Florida is not one of these community property states. Florida is what's called an equitable division state, meaning that at the end of a marriage, the court divides property based on certain benchmarks of fairness.

Still, a married people who inherit property in Florida should take care if they are estranged from a spouse, or simply want to keep some assets separate - perhaps due to some family inheritance. For instance, if the heirs commingle the inherited assets with the assets of the estranged spouse by putting them in a shared account it could make it very difficult to legally separate them again. There may also be concerns about giving money to youthful family members, or even younger adults, who may be likely to squander the inheritance or may be susceptible to outside pressure. All of these concerns can be put to rest through a well-planned will.

With careful estate planning, one can minimize this sort of problem. A will should make a person's intentions clear about who should get the inheritance, and leave loved ones as settled and peaceful as possible.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Swift Justice: Spending spouses, estate value and inheritance," Jackie Glass, Feb. 25, 2013

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