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Family conflict can be a big estate planning problem

Conflict between family members might be the biggest problem in estate planning for many people in New York. In a survey of estate planning professionals conducted by TD Wealth, 44 percent of respondents said fights between family members were the main challenge they faced. Problems with specific documents, such as wills and powers of attorney, lagged far behind at 17 and 16 percent respectively.

Only about a quarter said tax reform was a problem, but TD Wealth said this might be because the new tax bill was just passed shortly before the survey was done. In a year's time, the company said, this could be ranked higher. The company's head of private trusts said they were seeing more blended families, and this increases the likelihood of conflict. Another issue is with family businesses. When some family members work for the business and others do not, conflicts may erupt over fair treatment. TD Wealth has made an effort to begin working with families earlier on to get a better understanding of their goals and challenges over the long term to better anticipate and plan for conflict.

The company also points out that people should not assume that the increase in the estate tax exemption means they do not need an estate plan at all. Furthermore, the new tax law may be a good reminder to review plans.

One component of an estate plan that a person might want to review is the beneficiary designation. This is the document that is used with insurance policies, retirement plans and similar accounts. It can be easy to forget about these beneficiaries designations, and since they override both trusts and wills, people may inadvertently leave these assets to ex-spouses or others they do not intend. Wills, trusts, powers of attorneys and other documents should also be reviewed to make sure they still reflect a person's goals.

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