Deaths are a tragic event for loved ones who are left behind. Adding to the tragedy is the fact that many deaths lead to inheritance disputes. Even when there is not a substantial estate to settle, surviving family members may disagree about how assets should be divided and who is owed what.
The estate planning attorneys at Shore, McKinley, Conger & Jolley, LLP can assist individuals in the Stockton, CA, and Walnut Creek, CA, area in resolving inheritance disputes. Here, we discuss the options available to a beneficiary who feels they have been denied their share of assets and, better yet, how these disputes can be avoided altogether.
Causes of Inheritance Disputes
Most people think that money will be the furthest thing from their mind when they lose a loved one. However, inheritance disputes come up more often than most people realize. Even if a will has been established, beneficiaries may disagree about how an estate has been divided. The most common causes of inheritance disputes include:
- Failure of intentionality: Failure of intentionality essentially means that someone believes they have been left out of a will, or denied certain assets, by a matter of accident. Failure of intentionality may be the result on an out-of-date will that does not consider major life changes, such as divorce, birth, and adoption.
- Perceived inequity: Perceived inequity refers to a situation where one beneficiary feels he or she has not received a fair amount of the estate. This can occur even when an estate is divided equally. For example, an equal division of assets among three children may seem unfair if one child provided care and financial support to the deceased prior to the death.
- Wrongful acts: Wrongful acts apply to situations where the deceased was scammed or financially mistreated. This may include an elderly person being convinced to sign over power of attorney to a health care provider, for example.
Settling Inheritance Disputes
Our clients can settle inheritance disputes in one of two ways: court or mediation.
A court case can be filed by anyone who is named a beneficiary in a will, by anyone who would have a legal right to the estate if there were no will, or if the will was found to be invalid. Anyone filing a court case would have to prove that the terms of the estate plan were somehow unjust or improper.
Mediation is the second option for settling an inheritance dispute. During mediation, all affected parties meet to present their case. Each party has their own legal representation, and a mediator is present to oversee the proceedings. A mediator offers no legal advice and does not represent any one party. Instead, the mediator assists all parties in negotiating a settlement.
Avoiding Inheritance Disputes
Inheritance disputes tend to be messy affairs that cause irreparable rifts in families. The best thing our clients can do for their families is take the steps necessary to avoid inheritance disputes altogether:
- Work with an experienced estate planning attorney
- Continually update estate planning documents to accommodate changes in circumstances or family
- Be communicative with family members about the plans for your estate
- Anticipate possible areas of contention and draft documents that leave little room for challenge
Contact Our Attorneys
Estate planning is a vital tool for you and your family. To learn how the attorneys at Shore, McKinley, Conger & Jolley, LLP can help you plan accordingly to avoid inheritance disputes, send us a message online or call our office at (209) 477-8171.