Preventing a Family Feud: Advice for Navigating Inheritance Disputes
Many emotions surround the death of a loved one – sadness, regret, loneliness, stress. Inheritance disputes only increase the stress of losing a loved one, creating tensions and rifts between families and often resulting in costly and time-consuming lawsuits.
“Unfortunately, inheritance disputes are not just a problem for the rich and famous, or for blended families,” says CFP Board’s Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney, CFP®. “Even when there’s little or no wealth at stake, no second marriage with children that are ‘his, hers, and ours,’ survivors still disagree about issues such as the disposition of sentimental personal property, who should be responsible for raising the deceased’s minor children, even who gets the dog.”
In her latest contribution to LetsMakeaPlan.org, Blayney recommends several paths that a “would-be or should-be” beneficiary can take if he or she feels short-changed in an inheritance.
- Go to court. To pursue legal remedy, the aggrieved party must have legal standing as a beneficiary of the decedent, as a creditor, or as a legal claimant against property in the estate. This would include anyone who is actually named as a beneficiary in the estate documents as well as anyone who would have a right to the estate if a will did not exist or was deemed invalid.
- Legal mediation outside of court. This involves using a trained mediator, often an attorney, who seeks to forge a contractual agreement among the affected parties. Mediation is frequently a good solution for smaller disputes or in cases where confidentiality is paramount.
- Have a preventive plan. The best way to deal with inheritance disputes is to do everything possible to make sure they never happen. This means rethinking how good estate planning works. Rather than being a “once and done” exercise that you undertake when you get older, estate planning needs to be ongoing, and frequently reviewed and revised to keep pace with changing circumstances and family dynamics.
“Being alert to the potential for disputes can be invaluable when creating an estate plan,” says Blayney. “You will want to include language and provisions in your documents that anticipate and limit the possibility of legal challenges and disputes among your beneficiaries. Talking with a CFP® professional can help you and your family to develop a plan that will prevent inheritance disputes by clearly outlining your hopes and wishes for their future.”