A few decades ago, the estate planning process was relatively easy. With less divorce and a stable economy, many parents simply passed along their estate to their children in a will. Times are changing.

Divorce is much more frequent, as are people remarrying, which can introduce stepchildren into a relationship. Life expectancy has also increased, as have health care costs. The reality is simple: Families need to get to work on estate planning in an open, honest manner, so that no one's feelings are hurt when they get less than they thought they would.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the fastest growing age group of seniors is between 85 and 94 years old, but half of that group has Alzheimer's disease. The costly care involved can deplete retirement savings and assets that children thought they would inherit, and often the child that provides the most care feels as if they are entitled to what's left. This is an issue that needs to be settled before a parent can no longer make decisions.

Handling inheritances and stepchildren is also tricky. One 46-year-old man who is on his second marriage does not want his stepchildren to inherit his estate, because he wants to leave it to his children. He said it's complicated, and it made his new wife angry, but he went to an estate planning attorney alone to make sure only his children received anything.

No matter how complicated estate planning gets, the lesson is always the same: Start planning sooner rather than later. Families who are open with each other about inheritance expectations are more likely to reach an amicable agreement.

Source: USA Today, "With more blended families, estate planning gets ugly," Haya El Nasser, March 14, 2012