While fights over a decedent’s money and assets can lead to family feuds, they are just as likely to occur over memorabilia and personal items that have little or no monetary value. Some might even argue that the happiest families are in the most danger of feuding over a will, because they are more likely to attach sentimental value to a recently deceased relative’s personal possessions. When family members are feuding over a will, the best place to start is with an understanding of how a dispute with a will can be resolved.
Generally, a will can only be challenged by a person who is a named beneficiary in the will, or would inherit according to the state’s laws that govern inheritance distributions when there is no valid will, also called intestate succession laws.
Wills cannot be challenged simply because someone thinks that they deserve more or because they didn’t receive an asset that they had been told they would get. Wills can be challenged for only certain reasons such as:
- Someone exerted undue influence over the deceased, affecting the distribution of assets.
- The deceased was not competent at the time the will was signed.
- The will was not executed according to the laws of the state.
- The will is a fraud or forgery.
- The will seems to disinherit a descendant accidentally. For example, a will is created that divides the estate evenly among a man’s children but is never updated to include a child born after the will is drafted.
There are many drawbacks to challenging a will in court. First of all, it is very expensive; one can expect attorney fees to start at $10,000 and increase depending on the complexity of the case. The executor or trustees of a will that is challenged will receive the benefit of having their legal bills paid directly out of the estate, reducing the amount that remains for heirs.
There are alternatives for a family feuding over a will:
- Contact the executor to receive a full explanation of the will and the estate’s distributions. Sometimes this easy step can clear up a simple misunderstanding or help a family better understand the deceased’s wishes.
- If the deceased had an accountant or financial advisor in use for a number of years, consider bringing any concerns about the estate to him/her. Sometimes an accountant or financial advisor will have knowledge of the estate that can be helpful to understanding the division of property and possessions after the death of a loved one.
- Mediation. If the conflict cannot be resolved, keep in mind that there are professional mediators and attorneys who can help. Contact the experienced team at Christopher B Johnson to speak to an attorney who can work with your family to get through the basic logistics of a will dispute.