Avoiding Family Disputes Over Inheritance

Grief after a death in the family is unavoidable. Squabbling and bitterness are not. Working with a skilled and compassionate estate planning attorney can help you leave your family connected and supportive of one another when you die — arguably the most important legacy of all.

Why Family Disputes Over Inheritance Arise

Anger is often part of the process of grieving, all the more so if there are underlying feelings of jealousy or resentment. On top of that, long-repressed sibling rivalries may come to the forefront in the wake of a parent’s death. Even mature, even-tempered adults may revert to childish competition for the departed parent’s love.

With this in mind, it is invaluable to have an experienced estate planning attorney at your side as you make your will, establish trusts, and plan the distribution of your assets. The legal team at Surprenant & Beneski has a long history of successful estate plans behind them and is well-prepared to assist you in creating an estate plan that will permit a smooth transfer of assets to those you love most.

Factors that Lead to Family Disputes Over Inheritance

While each family dispute has unique elements, certain patterns repeat. For this reason, it’s helpful to understand the factors that are likely to cause trouble. These include:

  • Beneficiaries’ unrealistic expectations about how much the estate is actually worth
  • Unexpected choices about who gets what 
  • Failures to keep the estate plan current
  • Failure to itemize gifts of monetary or sentimental value 
  • Poorly chosen or irresponsible personal representatives (executors)

Ways to Avoid Family Disputes Over Inheritance

Though it may seem that family disputes after your death are completely out of your control, this is not the case. Several steps can be taken proactively to preserve family unity. Among them:

  1. Be transparent about your decision-making process

A large majority of heirs have not been told how much they are likely to inherit. This can cause great confusion and distress, especially if those heirs were expecting that a much larger inheritance would enable them to buy a new home or put their child through college. 

In many cases, parents are no longer as wealthy as they once were due to medical bills, business losses, or other reasons. It is essential that your heirs understand approximately how much their inheritance is likely to be and whether the funds they inherit will be in a restrictive trust. These details will help them plan their futures and keep them from feeling foolish or forgotten. 

  1. Create your estate plan as early as possible

More than half of Americans die without making a will. We recommend strongly that you not be one of them. Making a will enables you to name a person you trust to administer your estate, to name a guardian for your minor children, and detail how you want your assets distributed after you die. If you die intestate (without a will), the state will distribute your assets according to the Rules of Intestacy without regard to your wishes. 

  1. Update your estate plan regularly

A sharp estate planning lawyer will make regular appointments with you to update your estate plan. Failing to take this easy step can lead to a number of problems, causing dissension in your family. Because death often comes unexpectedly, it’s crucial to keep current with major changes in your family constellation.

Imagine if you never got around to establishing a trust fund for your newly diagnosed special needs grandchild, or failed to keep the son-in-law your daughter recently divorced from inheriting the family business! 

  1. Choosing your personal representative wisely

The choice of your personal representative is more significant than you may realize because this individual is the person who can best clarify your intentions. A well-chosen executor can smooth ruffled feathers and keep your family on an even keel in your absence.

Contact Our Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys Today

Above all, your choice of a well-respected estate planning attorney can help avoid family disputes over inheritance. Our accomplished attorneys have helped a great many clients plan their estates in ways that avoid pitfalls and preserve harmony. Contact us soon so we can do the same for you.