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.
Negotiating Family Inheritance: When to Involve an Attorney
Some of the most acrimonious and distasteful arguments involve family disputes, especially if finances are involved. When a family member passes away and leaves an inheritance, quarrels among the heirs that may lead to litigation are not uncommon. But the heirs can negotiate their differences and if necessary, involve an attorney who can explain their rights and suggest solutions. If you live in the Pasadena area and have an inheritance dispute, consider a consultation with an inheritance attorney from Pasadena.
Negotiating Ineritance Before Death
If you are drafting a Will or other estate plan instruments, you probably have a good idea of your assets and to whom you wish to leave them. However, you might consider that siblings or organizations may be expecting an inheritance or funds from your estate and that by omitting them or leaving them less than what they anticipated, you might create resentment, jealousy and animosity.
Before drafting your Will, you might wish to communicate to your heirs and any other beneficiaries what you plan to leave them. For example, you might feel that leaving your home to all 3 children is a good idea, but what if one wants to live there and the other two wish to sell it and divide the sale proceeds? If you have an unusual collection, antiques, jewelry or family heirlooms, do you know who would enjoy the item or would rather just sell whatever is left them or resent inheriting it? Communicate with your family over the disposition of your assets since this can prevent clashes after you pass away.
Inheriting a Home
One area that can lead to arguments is when a house is left to more than one heir, usually siblings. All are entitled to the enjoyment and use of the home unless the Will states that a specific family member could live there. Otherwise, the parties can negotiate, which may include a sale of the house and division of the proceeds or having one heir buy out the others. If the heirs disagree about disposition of the home, then a party could ask the court to order partition, which is a forced sale where the house is sold at auction or by use of a private realtor. Real estate auctions rarely result in the owners realizing full value so you should consider selling it, after probate, if this is your plan by using a private realtor and not getting the court involved.
Another solution is that if other valuable assets were left, an heir could relinquish rights to it in return for the house. Your inheritance attorney in Pasadena can advise you on the value of these assets and have them appraised if necessary.
One scenario is if your sibling wants the house but you want to sell and the sibling does not qualify for a loan is to have your attorney draft a promissory note or file a lien on the property. You could take monthly payments from the sibling who wants the home who will be making payments that are lower than what a mortgage would have required. Though you would immediately receive the proceeds if the house had been sold, you at least maintain family harmony in this case. If there is a default, you should consult with an attorney about your options.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
If you or your siblings or other heirs are firmly entrenched in their positions regarding a shared valuable asset like real property, then mediation or arbitration may be a solution. In a mediation, the parties present their arguments and positions to a neutral party who attempts to work out a compromise or at least offer suggestions. It is wise to have an inheritance attorney from Pasadena or trusts and estates lawyer as mediator since you will want a professional who understands the law of trusts and estates and can advise you accordingly.
If mediation fails, or is not considered, then arbitration is less costly than going to court. An arbitration is similar to a trial though you do not need a judge to act as arbitrator. Usually, a trusts and estate attorney is offered the task. All sides present their arguments, with opportunities to cross-examine witnesses. Any decision, though, is final.
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.