Why Do Families Fight Over Estates?

February 14, 2017
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When deciding whether or not to draft a Last Will and Testament, many individuals believe that their beneficiaries will not be fighting over the distribution of their estate assets. However, time and time again, the courts find themselves deciding disputes between families over the distribution of assets in a loved one’s estate. The best way to minimize disputes over an estate is by consulting and strategizing with an attorney who is experienced in handling estate planning matters. The attorney will advise the individual as to the most common reasons for estate disputes between family members, and help provide guidance for the thoughtful distribution of an estate.


Why do families fight over estates? One common reason for family disputes over an estate revolve around local and distant siblings prior to the death of a loved one. It is common that one sibling provides support and care for a parent at the end of their life, while other siblings may be more physically and psychologically distant. The closer sibling may provide for the parent daily, bring them to doctor appointments, and even manage their assets. To provide for convenience in the care taking, the sibling may also become a signatory or joint owner on the parent’s bank account. This proximity and control of assets can, in some circumstances, lead to what is referred to as a “money grab.” Additionally, the sibling may use their proximity to exercise control over the parent to orchestrate an entirely new estate plan. If that is the case, it may take until the parent dies before they recognize the estate plan has changed, and therefore brings about a challenge to the Will based on undue influence exerted over the aging parent.


Another common reason for family disputes over a loved one’s estate is when the decedent had a late-in-life spouse. The term “gold digger” has become much more prevalent in today’s world in referring to individuals who seek close personal relationships with elderly persons for their own financial gain. While only a small percentage of late-in-life spouses have these ill intentions, courts routinely see challenges from a family against the late-in-life spouse taking from the estate. The late-in-life spouse will often argue that the relationship was based on true love, while the children argue it was based on undue influence. These battles can be based on resentment between the parties and can get out of hand quickly.


When an elderly individual has no family members to take care of them, they are often forced to rely on caregivers and professionals to go about daily living. In some circumstances these caregivers are given the opportunity to attempt to work themselves into the estate plan. Caretakers and professionals may sometimes take advantage of the weakened faculties of the individual and therefore influence them into placing them within their estate plan. Working one of these individuals into an estate plan often results in a family or loved one being removed. The family member will challenge the Will due to the caretaker or professional’s undue influence on the estate plan.


Blended families may also provide a setting for family disputes over a loved one’s estate. Now a days it is not uncommon for second marriages to involve children from a previous spouse. In these situations, the parents often are looking to provide for all the children out of the assets from the new marriage. The parents will do this by executing new Wills that take care of all the children. However, when one spouse pre-deceases the other, all the assets will transfer from one spouse to the other. The new spouse can then make a new estate plan essentially cutting the deceased spouse’s children out of the plan.


While planning an estate with these possibilities in mind, sometimes even best estate plan may not be enough to save an estate from being disputed among family members. An individual thinking about an estate plan should be aware that there are instances in which their estate can be challenged. However, a Will is not the only issue that individuals should concern themselves with. Assets, such as retirement plans, investment accounts, and life insurance policies payable-on-death, pass outside the probate of a Will. So even if the estate is contested at a later date, the distribution of these assets will pass outside of that process. It is important for an individual to realize the value of choosing who will be the beneficiary of these assets.


At Tully Law, PC, we understand that estate planning can be both emotional and overwhelming. Our attorneys are available to advise you on potentially complex estate planning issues with both Wills and Trusts so as to minimize the possibility of these types of problems. We will take the time to review your goals and circumstances and do our best to ensure that your assets are protected and your wishes will be carried out as per your estate plan. For more information regarding our services or to schedule a consultation, call (631) 424-2800.

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