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Estate planning in the movies

One common theme in many films, particularly murder mysteries, is a challenged will. While drama over inheritance can make for an intriguing story, the reality in Florida and across the country is more subdued.

One example of how reality and Hollywood diverge is in the dramatic "reading of the will" scenes. Lawyers note that this is not a standard legal practice: Instead, the estate executor works with an attorney to notify beneficiaries and other people mentioned in the will.

However, there are common themes in movies that do reflect real-life estate planning concerns. The first is that of someone changing their estate plan without telling family members or making the changes right before dying. The other is the principle that if someone intentionally kills someone else, the killer cannot inherit anything from that person.

Most families don't have to worry about the second issue; criminal behavior is usually not a factor in estate planning cases, but the issue of unexpected or untimely changes to an estate plan can create problems. In many cases, unhappy family members may challenge a will, leading to a potential court battle or, more likely, a monetary settlement.

Attorneys often advise clients to discuss their estate plans with family members so that everyone knows what to expect. Doing this can prevent or reduce hurt feelings while also preventing costly legal challenges.

Individuals and families who are concerned about estate planning issues may benefit from speaking with an experienced attorney. A lawyer may be able to review a client's concerns and circumstances and then make recommendations regarding appropriate planning, including the creation of wills, trusts and other documents that are regularly reviewed and updated.

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