It’s a situation that we’ve seen play out in dramas throughout history and in cultures across the world: a family loses a loved family member, but rather than coming together in grief, family members find themselves fighting over who is entitled the deceased’s property, and tensions both old and new build walls between relatives. It would be nice to say this is mostly an invention of the theatre, but the sad fact is that estate attorneys see this unfortunate scenario play out in real life time and time again. Such disputes do not have to have unhappy endings, however, and with the proper preparation, many disputes can be avoided before they arise.
When Inheritance Disputes are Likely To Occur
It may seem like common sense to say that, if there is little to no inheritance at stake, there is little for family members to fight about, and if there is a lot of property at stake, there is a lot to fight about, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It is certainly is the case that, where there are millions of dollars of property descending through probate, an undeserving party may decide it is worth the risk to pursue a claim even if there is little to support the claim. But more often, inheritance disputes occur where the deceased neglected to draw up a will, or the will is either unclear as to how specific property should be distributed. When the deceased created multiple wills, this can create further drama in determining which one is legitimate and whether undue influence by a self-serving party affected the creation of one of the wills (which can nullify the will). Furthermore, the existence of sentimental objects in a will such as a family heirloom can increase the risk of an inheritance dispute.
Resolving an Inheritance Dispute with Minimal Fallout
Unlike other familial disputes involving emotional concerns such as broken promises, bruised egos, betrayals, and resentments, it is important to remember that, when it comes to inheritances, California estate law does provide a legal framework that will ultimately determine who gets what in an inheritance. In other words, properly administering the property among family members should not be a matter of who yells the loudest and is the most aggressive.
Matters get heated, however, when family members either misunderstand California’s estate laws, try to take advantage of one another’s ignorance of the law, or even try to intimidate one another or outright lie. Working with a trusted estate lawyer who can guide the sparring family members through what the law actually says and how it affects the disputed property can help soothe tensions and correct misunderstandings. And if there is an attorney already involved but not representing you personally, speaking with an attorney who can advise you of your rights to the estate and discuss reasonable strategies to exercise those rights without causing unnecessary drama.
Lower the Risk of Inheritance Disputes Before They Arise
The best way for a testator (the legal term for the person whose property is being distributed upon their death) to avoid his or her potential heirs from engaging in hurtful and expensive squabbling later on is to create a will that clearly and comprehensively disposes of all present and future property that the testator might own at their death. If the will is clear as to the recipients of the property, and specifies the property each should receive while accounting for future changes to that property (e.g. shares of stock that might become worthless in the future or a house that might be sold by the testator prior to death), then there will be little for future heirs to fight over. An experienced estates attorney will be aware of all the potential pitfalls that might result in inheritance disputes, and will draft language to avoid the expense and family drama that such disputes bring.
Contact a Trusted Inheritance Attorney in Pasadena
To help settle a current inheritance dispute or avoid a future dispute, work with trusted Pasadena inheritance attorney Christopher B. Johnson. Contact him today at 888-838-8771.