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This is the No. 1 issue keeping you from inheriting that windfall

Key Points
  • Nearly 8 out of 10 financial advisors polled by Key Private Bank said that navigating family dynamics is the biggest challenge when it comes to estate planning. 
  • Families should plan early and communicate their wishes to their estate planners, as well as update their legal documents to reflect those wishes. 
  • More than 80 percent of the polled advisors said that hardly any clients are "having open conversations about estate plans and wishes with their families."
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When it comes to passing on wealth to heirs, family dynamics can be the biggest obstacle.

Indeed, nearly 8 out of 10 financial advisors polled by Key Private Bank said that navigating tricky familial relationships is the most difficult part of estate planning.

The bank surveyed about 130 of its own advisors online in December 2018.

"The sensitivities of talking about estate planning often present emotional hurdles to putting a plan in place — especially when multiple marriages and blended families are involved," said Karen Arth, head of trust with Key Private Bank, in a statement.

As blended families become the norm, "the issues of equitable distributions among family members become even more complex," Arth said.

Indeed, the interaction between parents, children, step-parents and step-children can be fraught with tension during the estate-planning process.

This is especially the case when a plan is put into action after a parent or step-parent's death or disability.

But while your family's drama may be getting in the way, there is you can do something about it.

Open secrets

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More than 80 percent of  the advisors polled said that few of their clients are "having open conversations about estate plans and wishes with their families."

"Some clients may be hesitant to have a conversation about estate planning with their family members because they fear that sharing their wishes will cause conflict," said Andrea M. Griffiths, national manager of Trust Settlement Administration at Key Private Bank, in a statement.

Talking through your goals and how you'd like to share your wealth with your heirs is only part of the story.

You also have to update your documents to reflect your wishes.

Wills and titles

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"It's really important that, with these documents, you're taking care of yourself and your loved ones and your legacy," Arth told CNBC. But just signing a document and moving on isn't enough.

You should look at how your assets are titled and understand who is inheriting your wealth.

"From an estate-planning perspective, there are two main objectives when considering proper asset titling: avoiding probate and control over the disbursement of one's assets," Arth said.

Avoiding probate: Probate is the process that states use to settle the estate of a deceased person. Probate proceedings are made a matter of public record, so there is no family privacy. "It might also be costly and time-consuming, resulting in a delay to beneficiaries in receiving their shares," said Arth.

Disbursements: "Retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s and  pension plans have named beneficiaries. This means that the assets will pass directly outside of the probate process. The same holds true for life insurance and annuity contracts."

It is important to remember that specific beneficiary designations, whether through "payable on death," "transfer on death", etc., will supercede any provisions in a will or trust.

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Where there's a will

This is why account holders and insurance policy owners must review their beneficiary designations to ensure that the assets will transfer according to their wishes.

Arth gave the example of a client who wanted her assets to go to her grandchildren.

The client had signed a will drafted by an attorney, but didn't have the necessary titling in her grandchildren's names.

The elderly client passed away and her granddaughters got nothing, Arth said. The assets were divided up unequally among her two daughters, who were feuding.

"The woman's legacy was not shared with her granddaughters," she said. "People need to understand what they're doing and the impact."

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