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Avoid Family Feuds With Good Estate Planning Hygiene

Arecent visit to the dentist highlighted an important point to me: improper estate planning can have dire consequences for a family. As she cleaned my teeth, my dental hygienist asked me what type of law Johnson & Associates had as its focus. Once I referenced elder and estate law, her storytelling immediately began. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “I bet many people don’t realize what can happen if things aren’t properly set up. We had a serious issue in my family.”

I made some sort of assenting sound as she continued to clean my teeth.

“When she was alive, my grandmother did her estate planning documents and made my mom her executor,” the hygienist explained. “We thought everything was fine and we didn’t bother to check. Unbeknownst to us, my grandmother had made my aunt a ‘joint owner’ on her bank accounts, thinking that it would be good to have her daughter help her pay bills and expenses.”

Apparently the grandmother didn’t realize that once she passed away, all of the monetary assets would immediately become sole property of the joint owner—not a part of the estate to be equally divided amongst her other children and beneficiaries.

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Upon the grandmother’s passing, the joint owner daughter immediately cleaned out the accounts, claiming every last penny and causing quite a rift in the family. My hygienist emphatically noted that “mother never spoke to her sister again.” The hygienist herself decided to forgive her aunt, explaining that “life’s too short to hold on to anger,” although her own mother recently passed away without ever reconciling.

Sadly, the situation which caused grief, anger, and feelings of betrayal for many members of this family is not uncommon.

With proper estate planning advice, the financial assets would have been distributed the way the grandmother had intended, and her family members could have remained on much more positive terms—leaving one less painful story for a dental hygienist to relate.

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Lora Johnson

Lora G. Johnson was raised in Phoenix, Arizona. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, cum laude, from Arizona State University and graduated from the University Honors' College. Her research was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. She also earned her Juris Doctorate from Arizona State University in 1999.

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