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Estate planning can prevent some but not all family conflicts

Ohio probate courts each year host numerous legal conflicts about whether the maker of a will or trust was competent when executing the legal instrument, or in the case of a living trust was competent throughout its revisions and administration. A will or trust can be struck down if the maker is proved to have been mentally incompetent or swayed by undue influence in the making of the will or trust. The preparation of estate planning documents facilitates fewer conflicts among heirs. However, in some cases where competency is hotly contested by battling family members, litigation may be the only avenue to resolution.

This problem is currently faced by 88-year-old former astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon in 1969. Two of Aldrin's children have petitioned the state probate court to have Aldrin declared incompetent and have themselves named as guardians. They allege that he is suffering from dementia and is easily vulnerable to outside influence.

Aldrin responded by suing them, claiming that they have forbidden him from marrying someone, and are switching money from his accounts and not telling him. He has reportedly taken a competency examination, but its results remain private. He claims that his two children and former manager are participating in elder abuse by exploiting him unfairly. In addition, he claims that the Buzz Aldrin Space Foundation is spending money against his wishes by funding future educational endeavors rather than present ones.

This type of deep conflict in a family relationship is not unusual in litigation matters in Ohio. The elderly person can go a long way in preventing an escalation in later years by engaging in estate planning and having full discussions with heirs to explain the meaning of his or her choices for asset distribution. However, in some bitterly misunderstood situations where, for example, the elderly family member marries, or attempts to marry, a younger person, no amount of preplanned legal documents will forestall a court battle.

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