What Causes Probate Disputes?

What Causes Probate Disputes?

The probate process exists to ensure a deceased individual’s final wishes become reality. Probate helps the surviving family divide the decedent’s assets and property according to his or her wishes. While the death of an elderly parent or leading figure in a family can be an emotional time that brings families together, the probate process sometimes drives them apart for various reasons. Most probate disputes are the result of resentments, miscommunication, vaguely defined wishes in the decedent’s will or estate, and other causes. Anyone who expects to go through the probate process any time soon should have some idea of what could cause disagreements among family members.

Sibling and Relative Rivalry

Family members will sometimes see the death of a head of a family or elderly matriarch or patriarch as an opportunity to “get even” with siblings, settle old scores with other relatives, or simply take advantage of the situation for personal gain. A parent who recognizes his or her children’s likelihood to fight over the contents of an estate may want to consider securing a fiduciary professional to act as executor of his or her estate. Since a professional will be a neutral party unconnected to family drama, he or she will be more likely to execute the decedent’s last wishes faithfully.

Family Member Wealth

Some family members of a deceased individual may be wealthier than others. Less fortunate family may want to see a decedent’s property sold quickly for immediate gain, while others are more comfortable retaining those assets for the long term. In these situations, arguments can quickly arise between family members who earn widely different incomes. Estate holders should include clear language in their estates that outlines which assets and pieces of property the beneficiaries may sell. The estate holder can also include provisions that preclude some property from sale to ensure it stays in the family.

Choices for Executors

Estate holders should carefully consider who they would like to act as executor of their estates. The executor will have the responsibility of disbursing the decedent’s property and discharging the contents of his or her estate in good faith. While most people choose a spouse, sibling, or grown child, others may see the need for professional assistance to prevent squabbling. It’s also wise to only name one executor or trustee. While naming substitutes for these selections is advisable, naming co-executors or co-trustees can lead to disagreements and compromise the proper disbursement of the decedent’s property.

Last-Minute Changes

Keeping a trust or estate plan updated is a great way to avoid confrontations between surviving family members. If the estate holder purchases new property or obtains new assets, he or she will need to list these items in the will, estate, or trust. It’s also wise to account for changing relationships in the family. A late-in-life marriage to a new spouse or family resentments can lead to challenges from family members excluded from the estate. Clearly defined provisions for these situations will help avoid them.

Ultimately, estate planning is a complex and often emotional process. Estate holders can prevent a great deal of frustration and conflict in their surviving family by being as clear and detailed as possible when making their estates. Taking the time to convey final wishes to the rest of the family in person can also help them feel better about asset distribution and their status as beneficiaries. For all these issues, a reliable and experienced estate attorney can be a tremendous asset.