For example; In one case, 2 of 3 sisters were named co-executors of their mother’s estate that was worth millions. The third sister had distanced herself from the family years earlier because of a feud over the family business. When she discovered that she stood to inherit significantly less than her two sisters, she hired an attorney and contested every move they made.
When that didn’t work, she snuck into her mother’s house and stole a family heirloom knowing that her sisters attached great sentimental value to it. The two sisters finally got the keepsake back, but only after a long—and expensive—court battle. Still, the disgruntled sister accomplished her goal of rattling her siblings, draining money from the estate and dragging out probate.
You can’t predict exactly where an issue might erupt, but here are some common triggers that we’ve seen with family fights over inheritances, and some guidance on how to manage them.
“Mom always liked you best”
As named executor, you can minimize resentment by being sensitive to others’ feelings and encouraging collaboration.
When ‘Fair’ isn’t Always Equal
The executor’s job is to distribute estate proceeds according to the percentages outlined in the Will. If Mom’s Will didn’t specifically list you as the beneficiary of a family heirloom, it may be bequeathed to the oldest child listed in the Will. As a named beneficiary, they may also receive the same share of the residual estate assets all other heirs get.
Facing Your Family
Constant criticism puts a lot of stress and pressure on executors. So much pressure, that we sometimes find executors trapped in a holding pattern. The fear of causing conflict can often be greater than the pain of doing nothing. As a result, probate can drag on for years, prolonging everyone’s anxiety.
You can’t control fights over inheritance, or insulate yourself from potential blowback. What you can do is communicate early and often. Here are some guidelines:
Tell family members there are going to be some decisions that require family collaboration. They’ll each have the opportunity to provide input at that time. However, there are also going to be decisions that you as executor will have to make on your own, and you’ll keep them informed of those as well.
Trust your Instincts About Your Group.
If you know from the start that family dynamics could complicate probate, consider bringing in a mediator. It doesn’t have to be an estate attorney, just someone who can remain neutral and help resolve family fights over inheritance with patience and detachment.
Don’t Allow the Process to Consume You.
Probably the most important thing you can do is to take care of yourself through this emotional process. Set aside time that you’ll focus on probate issues, and then respect those boundaries so you can keep up with the rest of your life.
At the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. Remember, the most valuable part of any inheritance is the family bond that a beloved parent leaves behind. For all your Estate Planning needs, call AmySue Taylor.