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"Knives Out" film reflects real estate planning challenges

People in Georgia have been enjoying the hit film "Knives Out," featuring well-known stars and a fun mystery plot. At the same time, the film has raised questions for many about estate planning, as the plot of the film revolves around the death of an elderly man who changed his will shortly before. While the film is entirely fictional, some of the concepts raised by the characters involve real issues that can affect estate planning for everyone. In "Knives Out," one dramatic scene involves the dead patriarch's will being read out by an estate attorney; in real life, there is no "reading of the will." Instead, the document is presented to a probate court.

Another part of the movie's plot hews closer to real life, however. Members of the family plan to challenge or contest the will when they are unhappy with the revealed estate plan contained therein. Just as in the film, beneficiaries can contest a will if they have grounds to do so. In many cases, they may raise questions about the competency of the deceased person at the time the will was made. In other cases, they may also seek a distribution based on family changes that happened after the original will was written.

In the film as well as in real life, undue influence is a common claim when a will is challenged in court. This concept means that a person who is vulnerable, misled or unable to make their own decisions has been led by another person to change their will to that person's benefit.

The effects of an unexpected estate planning change can lead to serious family conflicts, which can often be forestalled with advance discussion. An attorney may help people to develop wills, trusts and other documents that reflect their plans for the future.

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