Real estate is an unusual asset for a variety of reasons. Properties can take up a significant portion of a decedent’s wealth while also being complex to liquidate or divide. A family home or vacation spot often carries an emotional component for heirs as well.
For these reasons, property is a frequent topic of contention between family members. While every situation is bound to have its unique details, there are certain obstacles that estate litigation attorneys tend to see repeatedly.
One type of problem develops when a parent leaves the childhood home to their multiple adult children. These children then have widely different visions for how to use the property. Let’s say two children both want to buy out the third’s share, but they then fight over who deserves to live in the home. Lacking a letter of intent, the parent’s plan doesn’t provide an answer.
There may also be problems involving the title. For example, two cousins agree to purchase a beach house together for vacations. One cousin pays for half the value over their lifetime, but doesn’t realize that their name was never on the title. Upon their death, the other cousin claims to legally own the entire property alone – leaving heirs with no cut. Verbal agreements like this can turn into nasty surprises down the line.
In some cases, heirs might doubt that the estate plan is even valid. Perhaps a father’s mental state was in decline in his later years and lived with his son. His will leaves multiple properties to his son, but none to his daughter. She now suspects that the son had wrongful power over his affairs.
Disputes like these make a difficult time even worse for families. A comprehensive estate plan should include safeguards to address these issues head-on. When they don’t, beneficiaries may need to seek a resolution through the legal system.