Advice for Siblings During Estate LitigationOct 12 2017
Even siblings that are close can end up being rivals after the death of a parent. Often this relates to the distribution of assets and property as each sibling also processes his or her grief. One may feel hurt because of not receiving as much as the other sibling. In some cases, a sibling may have been written out of the will altogether. In other situations, one sibling may have his or her own ideas of what to do with a property, but it may have been willed equally to other siblings who do not share in those same ideas. To help avoid some common pitfalls of estate litigation with siblings, here is some time-tested advice that will help keep things even.
Appointment of a Trustee
When drafting their separate wills, it may be helpful for your parents to appoint a professional fiduciary as a trustee. It’s generally not a good idea to put two people, siblings or not, in charge of the estate jointly. When a professional representative is in charge, sibling rivalry can be avoided. It’s similar to a business: there is a reason that a company has only one CEO or a country has only one leader. Even if two people get along most all of the time, there will inevitably be occasions when they have differences of opinion. Estate litigation can be both stressful and emotional which can further add to the pressure that family members may experience and the stands that they take.
Understand Your Parent’s Wishes
If your parents leave one of your siblings a favourite piece of property while you or another one gets the least favoured piece, you should try to understand why your parents made those decisions. It’s possible that one sibling may be better off than the other, so they may end up receiving less overall. This may be your parent’s way of ensuring there is a fair distribution of wealth, based on the circumstances they expect or were present at the time they did their estate planning. A heart-to-heart with your parents on this and other important matters is both proactive and practical.
If you feel that one of your siblings may try to make an elderly parent change his or her will, discuss this issue with one or both parents if possible. Holding a family meeting to review your parent’s wishes goes a long way to help alleviate tension and smooth out misunderstandings. If a parent is not able to have this conversation, all siblings should meet with the estate lawyer so that he or she can be advised that the parent may not necessarily agree to the proposed changes or have the capacity to make the proposed changes. There are follow-up legal steps that can be taken to address this matter.
Estrangement, Disinheritance and Late Marriages
If a parent remarries and there’s a new step-parent or a new mixed family, it could lead to familial discord as this can affect estate planning and the distribution of assets. Children may be left out of a will or are disinherited for a variety of reasons. Parents who want to avoid a contested will should have a professional involved to carefully draft their will or create a trust in addition to the will. A separate trust can ensure that the children and members of the new family are able to share in the inheritance.
If you feel you have been left out of your parent’s will but believe you are entitled to a portion of the estate, you do have legal options available to you. It is important to meet with an experienced estate lawyer to discuss your options as soon as possible as there are strict time limits should you choose to pursue a court action.
If you have a question about your estate plan or your parent’s will, trust or other related documents, contact RDM Lawyers LLP to schedule a consultation.