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Some people consider death as something to avoid thinking about, if at all possible. Others think about estate planning ahead of time, but don't think much beyond drawing up a will. Unfortunately, wills are basically lists of instructions on paper that mean little until an estate is taken to probate court. All too often, heirs who do not get along with each other turn the probate process into a knock-down, drag-out fight. A revocable living trust may provide one method for Maryland residents to avoid conflict between contentious heirs.

Trusts serve as contracts where a person establishes an entity, to which they then use to transfer ownership of their assets. In a revocable living trust, for instance, a person can do whatever they want with the assets and are able to change the terms of the trust while still alive. Once that person dies, the trust doesn't end. A trustee assumes control over the assets remaining in the trust.

Of course, in order to avoid conflict once the originator (or grantor) of the trust dies, it must be a well-drafted document. The grantor should also consider having a will and be sure to name an independent third party who they can rely upon to assume control over the trust when necessary. Ambiguity will most likely increase the chance for fighting among heirs. Specificity can certainly help to head off potential conflicts before they develop.

Another powerful estate planning tool includes a living will, which states how a person wishes to be cared for should they become incapacitated. Also useful can be a health care proxy, which appoints the person authorized to make health care decisions for an individual once they are no longer able to make such decisions on their own behalf. Adding these two items to a will and revocable living trust can be a solid way for most Maryland residents to handle the majority of their estate planning needs.

Source: US News and World Report, "How to Avoid Fights Over Inheritance," David Francis, July 17, 2012

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