When someone passes away, we hope that the focus will be on their loss and trying to keep their memory alive. However, if they left behind an estate and had multiple heirs, disputes can arise after the initial shock of their death. Disputes are common amongst siblings and are even more common when the deceased had more than one relationship, each with children.
If the parent did not take measures to put their wishes in crystal-clear terms, disputes can arise. These disputes can lead to a long probate process that involves multiple court visits, which often ultimately damages family relationships irrevocably. Navigating disputes is never easy, so follow our tips below to help you do so with grace.
How to Navigate Inheritance Disputes Among Multiple Heirs
When the parent is no longer around to preempt possible disputes, here are some of the actions you can take:
- Seek counseling or family conflict resolution: You may think therapy is the last thing you all need at this point, but it’s important to remember that disputes are almost always emotional issues. Someone feels that they are due something they didn’t get, they are jealous of another sibling, or are hurt that their parent didn’t distribute their assets in the way they expected. When disputes arise, going to see a family therapist to get all emotions and reasoning out into the open can be incredibly beneficial. With a third party present to moderate the discussion, and make sure things don’t turn into an all-out argument, everyone’s point of view can be heard and understood.
- Hire a third party to mediate: A neutral third party is also a good idea when it comes to navigating what goes on concerning the legal proceedings of the probate process. Mediation is a good idea since it can help you avoid going to court over the disputes raised. If the disputes go to court, the process will be more lengthy, public, and costly.
- Consider liquidating assets: Often, disputes are due to the value of the assets and how they are distributed. If one sibling is supposed to inherit the deceased’s main residence (worth $1,000,000) and another their vacation home (worth $500,000), then it is easy to see why the second sibling may be unhappy about the distribution of assets. In this case, one of the best decisions the siblings and those involved can collectively make is to liquidate all their parent’s valuable assets so the proceeds can be divided equally.
- Choose an independent personal representative: Sometimes, one of the problems that cause a dispute is that one or multiple siblings do not feel that the personal representative (executor or trustee) is a family member or someone they do not feel can be impartial. If this is the case, it is best for the appointed executor to decline the role and choose an estate planning lawyer to take on the role.
- Allow the sibling(s) to contest: If no resolution is reached, the sibling(s) with the dispute will have to contest the will. They must present a valid reason, it cannot be because they think it is unfair that another sibling got something they felt they should have got, or if they believe their parent denied them an asset out of spite. A valid reason can only be something like they believe their parent was coerced or lacked the capacity to make the decisions they made.
What kind of lawyer do you need for inheritance disputes?
If it looks as though the inheritance disputes will not be resolvable without the involvement of a legal representative, you should find an attorney that specializes in probate litigation, trust litigation, or estate planning. They will be able to guide you through the process and try to help heirs come to an understanding or agreement without going to court.
What if there was no will in the first place?
If there was no will, then the parent is deemed to have died “intestate.” When someone dies without a will, their estate is subject to the laws of succession in the state they died in. In most cases, this means that the deceased’s living spouse will inherit their entire estate, and if there is no surviving spouse, then the children will inherit the estate equally.
What happens if inheritance disputes go to court?
If the disputes cannot be resolved in mediation, the executor must submit a list of all assets and any claims to the court. If siblings believe they are acting unfairly, the disputing heirs can challenge their decisions in court.
If the executor is not the problem, a judge will review all information, the reason for the disputes, and determine how the assets should be distributed based on inheritance laws in the state. These decisions aren’t always the “fair” ones, so it’s best to come to an agreement outside of court.
What happens when siblings in dispute inherit an asset jointly?
Sometimes, siblings will inherit one asset. For example, a parent may leave the family home to both of their children, leaving them to decide how to deal with the house. In this case, the best solution is for the siblings to sell the home and divide the proceeds from the sale equally. Another option is for one sibling to buy out the other, enabling one sibling to keep the house and the other sibling to get half the asset in cash.
When Property Causes Disputes
When real estate is a cause of dispute between siblings, the best course of action is often to sell the property as soon as possible. We buy property in Massachusetts in as-is condition and can complete in just 2 weeks, allowing all involved to distribute the proceeds equally among heirs.
Provided you are in a legal position to sell the home (either because you have jointly inherited the property or are an executor with permission to sell the property), all you need to do is contact us with a few details. To find out more or to get an offer so you can sell the home and resolve the dispute as soon as possible, click here.