When people think of contentious legal battles, they may imagine drawn-out child custody or divorce cases. While family law disputes can undoubtedly get heated, probate matters can also result in intense conflict between family members. In some unfortunate cases, the battles between relatives begin even before funeral arrangements can be made. Here are some reasons why wills and estates can bring out the worst in families.
Although a will may seem to be a simple document that merely directs where assets should go, it also serves as the decedent’s final word to his or her survivors. If someone dies with three siblings and disinherits one of them, there are bound to be hurt feelings. A bequest that omits an heir may result in a will contest as the disinherited party may believe they were left out by mistake. When a family member believes he or she is going to inherit and does not, extensive finger-pointing and deeply held grudges may ensue. Additionally, when children or other close relatives of the deceased go after one another, it’s often about more than the money or assets. They may be working through old emotions about their relationships.
Every so often, you hear of the dastardly relative that sneaks into a deceased loved one’s home and makes off with family heirlooms before anyone else can lay claim to the property. These family members often believe themselves to be entitled to whatever they took. However, a stolen piece of jewelry or art can create bad blood between relatives for generations. There may also be relatives who have spent time with or devoted themselves to an ailing loved one under the tacit, or even express agreement, that they will receive an inheritance. When the promise is not fulfilled, the relative may feel deceived and entitled to the bequest.
When a close family member becomes a caretaker of an ailing loved one, lines can get crossed, especially if the individual has dementia or is incapacitated. When an elderly or infirmed loved one makes significant changes to his or her will or trust, close to when a family member assumes a significant role in their life, other relatives may have reasons to be suspicious. If a relative believes another person in the family manipulated an emotionally or physically fragile loved one into making estate planning decisions, this situation could lead to hostility and accusations.
Ultimately, wills and estates usually concern family and loved ones. When there is a long history of conflict, the death of a loved one is likely to exacerbate issues between those closest to the decedent. At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we have experience helping families work through estate planning issues and disputes. Contact us today for a free consultation.