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Estate Disputes: Common Issues that Cause Friction
Estate Disputes: Common Issues that Cause Friction
Estate Disputes: Common Issues that Cause Friction
Estate Plan Lawyer » Resources » Estate Disputes: Common Issues that Cause Friction

Prevent Future Family Discord with a Solid Estate Plan 

The pain of losing a loved one is difficult enough. Unfortunately, too many people do not leave a complete and up-to-date estate plan behind, and contentious estate disputes become part of the grieving process. This lack of clarity adds pain and confusion to families and heirs, who then have to divide and share the assets of their loved ones. The Estate Planning Law Firm focuses its entire practice on ensuring these kinds of estate planning disputes are resolved before they can even begin. Such disputes can involve: 

  • Lack of clarity in the will or estate plan
  • Unequal distribution of assets
  • Family conflict and interpersonal dynamics
  • Inadequate communication and disclosure
  • Incapacity and undue influence
  • Disputes over executor or trustee actions

Addressing these estate plan disputes may require those involved to consider:

  • Legal and procedural issues
  • Alternative dispute resolutions
  • Preventative measures to minimize estate disputes

Estate plans are important for every person with something to lose and someone to love, yet they are all unique. Finding the best estate planning package for you is as simple as taking this short quiz to see which planning package best meets your needs. Contact The Estate Planning Law Firm to get on the right path to protecting your family’s future. 

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Lack of Clarity in the Will or Estate Plan

By and large, the most common errors in contested wills and estate disputes are due to unclear language in the estate plan. Problems can arise when wills are not updated to reflect changes in assets, heirs, or interests. Testators should review and update their wills periodically and be sure an estate planning attorney reviews each version, or codicil, for clarity. The Estate Planning Law Firm drafts wills free from:

  • Ambiguous or outdated language
  • Unclear beneficiary designations
  • Disputed interpretation of provisions

Revisions to client wills are also thoroughly reviewed to iron out any further confusion. Contact The Estate Planning Law Firm for clear, unambiguous end-of-life documents.

Unequal Distribution of Assets

Wills can often be contested if a clear beneficiary is cut out of the asset division and is not listed as an inheritor. 

Similarly, people may recall a time when the deceased had shared a promise of bequeathing a particular item or parcel to an individual, but that promise is not accounted for in the most updated version of the will. This is especially difficult when considering personal items and those of sentimental value.

Family Conflict and Interpersonal Dynamics

“Having one kid makes you a parent. Having two kids makes you a referee.”—David Frost

Some estate plan contests are due to strong emotions and family dynamics more than wording and clarity. With raw emotions running high, some family members feel they deserved or just expected more that was distributed to them or that another family member should be entitled to less than what they received. Many situations are ripe for estate plan disputes:

  • Sibling Rivalry and Competition
  • Stepparent and stepchild disputes
  • Second and subsequent marriage claims
  • Blended family challenges
  • Estranged family inclusion
  • Close family exclusion
  • Resentment and emotional tension

Even carefully drafted estate plans can elicit contests when interpersonal conflicts play a role. An estate plan is about protecting loved ones in the future; therefore, it is always important to talk to family members and make wishes known before the time an estate plan must be executed. Contact The Estate Planning Law Firm for guidance in this matter. 

Inadequate Communication and Disclosure

Discussing the end of life and the future without a family member can feel uncomfortable and overwhelming. Though it may feel more comfortable to avoid that conversation, a lack of transparency regarding assets and intentions can create estate disputes in the future. 

Failure to involve family members in discussions about asset division leads to misunderstandings and misinformation. When an estate plan dispute begins, there is not enough evidence or testimony to support a potentially valid contest. Sometimes, families are not aware of what the estate includes or no longer includes. These miscommunications can transform an already emotionally charged time into an overwhelming nightmare. 

The Estate Planning Law Firm takes the mystery out of estate planning and guides clients to a clear, logical arrangement of assets and directives that can more easily be discussed with inheritors. Talking about your estate plan offers a stronger chance the parameters will be followed and makes their contests less likely. 

Incapacity and Undue Influence

Near the end of a person’s life, they may be surrounded by medical professionals, caretakers, spiritual advisors, and other figures who provide great comfort to the ailing. Families may feel that this placement allows end-of-life care providers the opportunity to exercise control and influence over asset distribution. Similarly, estranged friends and relatives, or even employees and coworkers who place themselves close to the testator, may seem suspicious. 

In some of the most devastating estate disputes, families believe that their loved one’s will was influenced by another party and that the final version of the will does not accurately reflect the testator’s wishes. If this influence can be proven, beneficiaries can contest the will in probate court, with the aim of ruling the will invalid. 

Moreover, families can also challenge a will’s validity if the will was made or revised when the testator’s mental capacity is in question. Any allegations of coercion or manipulation of the benefactor by a third party can potentially have the will revoked. Mental capacity is considered legally sound if the testator: 

  • Knows that he or she is making a will
  • Is aware of his or her property and the nature of that property
  • Knows the people who stand to inherit assets from their estate

You need an experienced estate planning attorney to work through this dispute. If a will is found invalid, it is intestate, the estate’s assets are distributed according to state law, and your loved one’s wishes may not be represented at all. Contacting The Estate Planning Law Firm can help ensure clear language and certain provenance of a will.  

Disputes over Executor or Trustee Actions

Estate distribution is more than leaving money and property to loved ones. Before that can ever happen, a will must go through probate, wherein an estate’s assets are opened and then used to pay any debts, taxes, and other fees. An executor, appointed by the testator, will guide the estate through probate before assets can be distributed to family, friends and charity. Failure to properly perform the responsibilities bestowed on them is grounds for an estate dispute. 

Executors and trustees are appointed in a comprehensive estate plan and are granted the responsibility of managing the documents and terms laid out. Any breach of these responsibilities and fiduciary duties may give rise to estate plan disputes. 

Examples of fiduciary duty breaches include: 

  • Failing to provide required accounting and tax information to beneficiaries
  • Improperly investing or mismanaging estate or trust assets for personal gain
  • Failing to file tax returns or pay estate taxes
  • Improperly dividing assets among beneficiaries 

Improper executor or trustee behavior may result in the removal or replacement of executors or trustees. A probate court may appoint a new estate administrator in their stead. 

Legal and Procedural Issues

There are a lot of implications to contesting the validity of a will. If a will is found to be legally invalid, the entire estate is then at the mercy of the probate court and state laws. The benefactor or heirs have no say in how the estate is divided, and it can take many additional months or even years to complete. 

Anyone looking to commence an estate dispute must have legal standing or be named as a beneficiary in the will or trust and do so in a timely manner. Though it depends on your own state law, usually, the complaint must be filed within a few months of opening the estate to probate.  A contest will extend probate for months or even years, and the legal and administrative expenses can rise quickly.

Thoughtfully consider what will happen if the contest is successful. If the estate dispute results in a nullified will, then all terms and conditions of the estate plan will be dictated by the laws and courts, and none of your loved one’s wishes may be considered. 

Alternative Dispute Resolution Methods

Rendering a will or trust invalid will have many consequences, and they may be worse than the original terms of the estate plan. Worse, litigation of an estate dispute can get expensive, and the result may not be worth the cost. There may be a way through compromise to address concerns and resolve any conflicts without dismantling your loved one’s plan for their family’s future. 

One alternative estate dispute method is mediation. Here, a neutral third party who is familiar with probate law in your state and is a trained mediator hears the concerns of the contesting parties facilitates discussions, and looks for reasonable negotiations. The mediator does not make final decisions but helps the separate parties reach their own agreements. Since emotions run high in times like these, reaching a collaborative solution stands to resolve the legal dispute as well as heal personal relationships. 

Preventative Measures to Minimize Estate Disputes

Of course, the best way to address an estate dispute is with a thorough, comprehensive estate plan. The Estate Planning Law Firm offers several customizable packages for any client to ensure his or her future is protected when they are no longer able to provide for their family themselves. Your estate plan can include all necessary documents that fully outline your wishes, including: 

The Estate Planning Law Firm also offers guidance on how to have open communication with family members about these sensitive topics. It is important for all interested parties to be aware of what the future holds so that estate plan disputes can be avoided entirely. 

Avoid Will Contests with a Comprehensive Estate Plan

Creating an estate plan is the best way to provide for your family members after you are gone. For that to be effective, your estate documents must be tailored to your specific assets, needs, and wishes. Start by taking the quiz and work with our lawyers to avoid estate planning disputes for your heirs and family. 

Make the transition as smooth as possible and preserve your own peace of mind by contacting The Estate Planning Law Firm. Call us today at 1-833-483-7529. 

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