The death of a loved one sometimes brings not only grief, but also tension and conflict between surviving siblings and other family members. If you are engaged in an estate dispute or see the beginnings of a potential conflict, here are few tips to help you navigate this challenging situation.
Understand the parents’ wishes
A beneficiary designation may have seemed unfair on the surface, but perhaps your parent’s decision was wiser than it first appeared. For instance, a business-owning parent may bequeath the business to only one sibling. This seems unfair at first, but maybe that sibling was the only one truly passionate about the business. Look at the overall estate plan, and perhaps your parent compensated you with other assets.
Identify real problems and address them
It’s easy to make mountains out of molehills in such an emotionally charged situation is dividing a parent’s estate. Make sure you don’t let petty squabbling distract you from significant legal problems such as:
- Undue influence: Did a family member or caretaker exert influence on your elderly loved one in order to gain a financial advantage in the will or trust? Such actions are unlawful and may render existing estate planning documents invalid.
- Lack of testamentary capacity: Did your parent have the mental capacity to make sound decisions regarding the planning of his or her estate? A will may be invalid if it was created while your loved one suffered from mental decline.
- Fraud: Outright fraud by family members or fiduciaries is not common, but sadly does occur. Such issues must be promptly addressed to protect your rights and the wishes of your loved one.
When such conditions are present, consult with an experienced estate litigation attorney who can help you understand your rights while advocating for you throughout the process.
Know your options
When conflict erupts between estranged family members, it may be tempting to engaged in aggressive litigation from the outset. This can be a mistake, as alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation can bring about a more amicable and cost-effective outcome. You may very well have to resolve your dispute in court, but you can save yourself time, expense and stress by exploring other options.