Family disputes can create unwelcome tension and animosity but they can lead to a full-blown confrontation and major issues when the dispute is centered around inheritance after the death of a loved one.
Resolving inheritance disputes will normally require the services of an estate planning attorney as they will have previously encountered many of the arguments and issues that tend to surface in these awkward circumstances.
Here is a look some of the fundamental reasons why inheritance disputes occur in the first place and what steps you might have to take to bring the dispute to a satisfactory conclusion.
Where there’s a will there’s a way
One of the major reasons why families fall out over inheritance is when the deceased relative has not left a will which details clear instructions regarding how they want their money to be divided amongst their relatives.
If you have not put down in writing and had the document witnessed to verify its contents exactly what you want to happen to your assets when you die, it is almost inevitable that certain relatives will think they are entitled to much more than they actually get.
Dying without having written a legal will is a bad thing to do and it not only means that the family might go to war with each other over who should get what, but the government might get more of your money than they would if you had put your final wishes into a legally-binding document.
It is absolutely essential that any person who has assets such as property and investments takes the time to seek out professional guidance and assistance to draft a will that outlines exactly what you want to happen to what you have when you die.
Creating a will is something to do at any age, especially if you have a family that needs to be taken care of.
When there is a new partner or cohabitee
Another regular scenario that encourages families to dispute inheritance is when the deceased either remarried and started a new family or chose to live with someone who they didn’t end up marrying before they died.
Original family members such as sons and daughters might try to dispute that this person should not be entitled to inherit any property and money.
It seems to happen quite regularly that grown-up children don’t want to accept that their mother or father might have wanted to cut them out altogether from the inheritance or give them less than they think they deserve.
Even if a will exists, there is always the option to contest the contents if a justifiable cause can be put forward.
Lawyers will frequently encounter these sort of challenging circumstances and there are all sorts of factors to consider such as making financial provisions for the surviving partner and how valid another person’s claim is to a larger share of the cash and assets left behind.
Power of attorney
When someone becomes ill or the aging process takes its toll there could be a time when that person doesn’t have the mental capacity to make financial decisions on their own anymore.
It is commonplace to have a power of attorney in place in this situation, which is often put into place well in advance while the person is in full control of their faculties and knows exactly what they are doing by passing on responsibility for their financial affairs to someone else.
As you might expect, the fact that someone has signed over the ability to make important financial decisions on their behalf to someone else can create family conflict, if certain relatives feel that the action was not justified or even actioned against the person’s wishes.
Disputed powers of attorney are a regular issue that lawyers might have to handle and a typical scenario would be when children feel that their parent has handed over their financial affairs to another person without understanding the consequences of their actions.
Giving someone power of attorney means they can access money and assets belonging to the person who signed the document, so you can easily see why family members might want to contest the veracity of the arrangement when they are going to be missing out on an inheritance that they thought would be coming their way.
A family discussion about what to do if a loved one becomes incapable of handling their own financial affairs any more is one to have sooner rather than later when health issues become real.
If the plans for inheritance are discussed and outlined while the person is in full control of their faculties it should help reduce the prospect of a dispute arising at a later date.
It is often when family members discover that a power of attorney exists that they didn’t know about it that the situation can become tense and a dispute ensues.
If a family member takes the view that a power of attorney has been signed under duress or other inappropriate circumstances this is when an attorney will normally step in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
Best ways to avoid a dispute
Having outlined three typical inheritance dispute situations it makes sense to look at some of the best ways to avoid that happening in the first place.
Setting up an estate plan as soon as possible is one of the best things you can do to help avoid a potential dispute at a later date.
No one wants to talk about death but if you commit to talking to your family about your plans it will get any possible conflicts out in the open and resolved before its too late.
Keep in regular contact with your estate planning attorney so that you can make adjustments to your instructions when required and update your wishes as and when your circumstances change.
Family inheritance disputes are on the rise and if you understand how they arise in the first place it should help you to take the right steps to reduce the prospect of a major argument after you have gone.