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Can you avoid estate battles among family members?

When a loved one dies, family members don't always act rationally. This is especially true when the will is read and one or more members feel as though they did not receive what they perceived as their fair share of the estate or were passed over entirely.

What can be done to resolve acrimonious infighting over an estate? It helps to understand that the fight is not always about money or property. Sometimes those are only proxies for what the disinherited family member sees as a lifetime of being left out or treated shabbily.

While it might not always be possible to avert a breakdown of family relations, the dysfunction still must be managed skillfully to avoid permanent schisms between blood kin. Typically, it falls on administrators of estates or their legal representatives to defuse tensions and de-escalate any conflicts.

Successfully administering an estate among disgruntled relatives is stressful at a time when people are struggling with their grief. It might be best for all concerned to allow a Massachusetts estate attorney to assume this role, at least initially. Barring that, below are some tips to preserve (or recapture) family harmony.

  • Communicate with all parties. Don't discuss estate matters with only some of the heirs or family members, which can lead to accusations of favoritism. Send group emails or make a series of calls so that all receive the same information.
  • Make sure that all know the decedent's wishes. On matters involving the estate, don't waffle. Make the best decisions based on the will's stated intentions and realize it's impossible to please everyone.
  • Develop effective strategies to avoid costly litigation. It makes no sense to spend $20,000 in legal fees fighting over a $10,000 behest. If a sibling or step-parent plans to mount a challenge to the will, consider making a reasonable settlement offer to mollify the overlooked individual.

Litigating the estate should be the course of last resort. Your estate law attorney can advise you of the settlement options that are available to you, which may include mediation.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Estate Planning: Avoiding (Or At Least Managing) The Family War," Suzana Popovic-Montag, accessed Sep. 29, 2017

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