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Inheritance has a tendency to be a blessing and a curse. No one wants to inherit property or cash from a loved one because the person died. On the other hand, death is a fact of life and few people turn down extra money.

There are times when people receive inheritance property before the person passes away. It's not uncommon for people to "gift" real estate, financial assets, cash and personal belongings to their loved ones prior to death. Not only does gifting ensure intended beneficiaries actually receive the property, it also eliminates some of the property taxes and keeps assets out of probate.

Probate is used to validate a person's Will and establish the estate's value. The probate process can last for months or years; depending on the complexity of the estate. If named beneficiaries are in agreement, probate tends to move along more quickly than if an heir contests the Will.

An unfortunate fact of life is death oftentimes brings out the worst in people. As a private investor, I occasionally purchase estate assets Although, I've witnessed heirs contest a Will over $1000 piece of artwork I am still shocked at the greed-factor that occurs when inheritance is involved.

If I could only offer one piece of advice to someone it would be to engage in estate planning while you are alive and kicking. I recently worked with a client whose mother was terminally ill. Kathy's mom had not initiated any estate planning, including designation of Power of Attorney or advanced healthcare directives.

There had been considerable turmoil within the family. Kathy' siblings weren't able to cope with their mother's illness. They offered little to no assistance in the mother's daily care. Kathy became her mother's fulltime caregiver during the final four months of her life.

During this time, Kathy helped her mother establish estate planning with the assistance of a probate attorney. One of the siblings had been particularly cruel and her mother wanted to make certain he did not receive any inheritance. Financial holdings were distributed amongst the three remaining siblings and the mother made a list of personal items each child would receive.

A few weeks after the mother died, the disinherited brother hired a probate attorney to contest the will. His argument was that his mother was of unsound mind and Kathy had coerced her into writing him out of the will.

Fortunately, Kathy had solid evidence in the form of a handwritten letter the brother had sent to their mother weeks before her death. In it he declared that he hated his mother so much he hoped she died and to make certain she wrote him out of the will because he didn't want any inheritence. Once his attorney laid eyes on that, he realized there were no grounds for contesting.

If you have direct lineage relatives in your life that could be entitled to inheritance and you do not want them to have any of your belongings, execute a will. Otherwise, you could be rolling over in your grave when you find out who ends up with your stuff.

Nearly every family has some level of dysfunction. Death kicks dysfunction up a notch and things can quickly escalate out of control. Protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect your assets. Establish some form of estate planning today!

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