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Resolving Probate Problems with Siblings

Troy Werner and his family

Written by Troy Werner

Troy Werner has been an indispensable asset to The Werner Law Firm since joining in 2009, providing exceptional legal service to its clients.

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POSTED ON: December 17, 2021

If you are anticipating family issues when you pass away and leave behind an inheritance for your loved ones, then heading them off is crucial. Even simple squabbles can turn into vicious and litigious fights down the road, and sore wounds can become years and decades of alienation, nonstop fighting, and eventually lead to an […]

If you are anticipating family issues when you pass away and leave behind an inheritance for your loved ones, then heading them off is crucial.

Even simple squabbles can turn into vicious and litigious fights down the road, and sore wounds can become years and decades of alienation, nonstop fighting, and eventually lead to an aimless loss of capital.

What's the best plan to resolve probate problems with siblings?

Where Did It Go Wrong?

Identifying where and how probate problems with siblings might occur is important. Not everything is fixed with a group hug or simple financial concessions.

Children can and do become cruel toward each other, and whether you might have been blind to that in the past, some things simply aren’t reconcilable. Trying to fix things to the best of your ability can help, but never ask an abuser and a victim to reconcile, especially when the road goes both ways.

Discuss things like adults. Be realistic about how you plan to split the estate personally and hear out how each of your children feels about it. There will be things they won’t want to budge on, but there will also be things they might be able to compromise on.

Most importantly, realize how much weight simply asking can carry. You will be able to head off an infinite amount of animosity and venom simply by trying to diffuse the situation and bring up the topic of inheritance in the first place, versus letting it stew until the day your last will is revealed.

Common Probate Problems with Siblings

Probate problems differ from case to case, but a few common triggers for a litigious war include:

      • Discord over the appointment of a representative for the estate.
      • A challenge of the parent’s last will and testament (claiming fraud or coercion).
      • Differences in the share of the estate granted to each sibling.
      • Fighting over reimbursement for the administration and maintenance of assets in the estate.
      • Reigniting old fights.
      • Trying to steal the inheritance/accusing them of stealing the inheritance (through undue influence, misappropriated assets, etc.)
      • And more.

These differ in scope and severity, but each can bring cause to the table for a court battle – especially accusations of fraud, theft, or elder abuse. If you feel your sibling is trying to make off with the inheritance – or if you feel that a legal conflict is inevitable – you will need to hire a competent legal professional.

Communication is Key

We’ve mentioned the difference just talking can make. Many parents refuse to discuss financial details with their children, even when those children have children of their own.

But it becomes important to bring up the topic of inheritance and estate management the older one gets, and the closer one feels to the end.

An estate plan is not something you design completely alone, and it should be less vague and generally understood by the rest of the family. It helps when everyone knows what to expect from the end, and how best to handle the legal and administrative work that follows.

On the topic of inheritance, mentioning certain things can help you alleviate misunderstandings and misattributions, and ensure that you end up with the halfway fairest estate plan set up, while still staying true to your original wishes and purpose.

For example, you might not realize that the child you previously thought was best suited for taking over the family business – and the property around it – had no interest in doing so any longer – and that another sibling was not only eager but proven in the field. Perhaps it never quite came up because it wasn’t a topic anyone broached easily, or because it typically led to a fight.

On the other hand, talking to your children may reveal what they find most important from the assets among your estate. Do not underestimate sentiment. It isn’t always about the money, and for many people, it’s the smaller things that count for the most. Who will inherit your coin collection? Your golf clubs? The 70s convertible? Your grandmother’s desk? The original Singer machine brought over from the old country? The list goes on and on.

Update Your Estate Plan Carefully

There are a lot of moving parts in the average estate plan. Simply amending a will often isn’t enough. You must think about your beneficiary designations, your primary designations, your secondary or contingency designations, any trusts that might supersede these, as well as other estate planning documents and their assorted amendments.

Working with an estate planning professional to sort and organize each of these elements can go a long way towards alleviating the stress and legwork associated with estate planning. A good estate planning professional will keep you updated on necessary changes related to local and federal tax law and can help you revisit and revise your plan on a regular basis.

What If There Is No Will?

Different estate planning tools dictate who gets what. Beneficiary designations and trusts have special priority, as the former kicks in immediately upon death, while the latter is active the moment a trust is written, signed, and notarized. The contents of a will take longer to administrate, as they must pass through a probate court, with the ensuing probate process taking anywhere from six months to well over a year.

When there is no will, anything not attributed to designated beneficiaries or funded into a will is distributed within the probate process as per local intestacy laws. Generally, this means that about half of everything goes to the surviving spouse, and the rest is distributed among the children or other next of kin. If there is no surviving spouse, it all goes to the children or next of kin.

Without a will, the estate is divvied up equally. This in itself can lead to a unique situation rife with drama, depending on how the estate is administrated and split during probate.

Use a Mediator to Head Off Conflict

If you smell conflict brewing, the best thing to do is prepare yourself by hiring a mediator. Mediators are legal professionals who act as an independent third party for all involved parties to work with in pursuit of a conflict-free resolution.

Probate litigation can get very expensive and can open or reopen wounds that might never close. A mediator and skilled estate planning professional can help head off these unnecessary battles, and save everyone countless amounts of time, money, and heartache.

Probate problems with siblings can be resolved!


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