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How family dynamics affect estate conflicts

An old joke is that wherever there's a will . . . there are greedy relatives. While there is indeed truth in that adage, that's by far not the sole dynamic at play in most estate battles.

The truth is that each of the decedent's heirs and family members brings a distinct energy and dynamic to a contested estate case. Read on to learn how challenging family dynamics can affect your court fight over a loved one's estate.

Beware of the steps

Step-parents and step-siblings are a frequent source of contention for the biological heirs of a decedent. Problems can also occur among half-siblings, especially if the second set of children were the product of the extramarital affair that ended or contributed to the demise of the decedent's prior marriage.

One good way to handle the allegations of unequal treatment in the will is to include a letter to the heirs that explains why you are distributing your estate as you are. They might not like your decision, but they could come to understand it eventually.

Sibling rivalries

It's completely unrealistic to believe that 40 years of rivalries between siblings will dissipate with a parent's demise. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, especially if one child feels left out of the parent's largesse.

If one sibling was always perceived to be the golden child and another the scapegoat, those archetypes will continue to crop up in estate division negotiations. Try not to revert to your childhood personas when it's time to discuss the estate.

Spendthrift siblings

Just because your brother or sister might deplete their inheritance in ways you feel are wasteful or frivolous doesn't mean that they aren't entitled to their share as stated in the decedent's estate planning documents. This is a good reason never to place one sibling in the trustee role of a spendthrift trust for another child. Select an unrelated financial professional for that role instead so that the sibling relationship can be preserved.

Provide for all heirs

While parents or grandparents may feel justified into completely cutting an heir out of their estate, this is an almost universally bad idea. For one, it offers the disinherited relative a potentially legitimate reason to challenge the will.

It's far better to leave that heir at least a nominal sum, with the clause that any attempt to contest the estate will negate that behest. You can also state why this heir receives what they do, e.g., a lifetime of profligate spending crises and subsequent financial rescues or an uncontrolled addiction.

You and your estate planning attorney can devise the perfect estate plan for you that addresses all of your concerns.

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