We’ve previously discussed some of the estate planning challenges that parents with more than one child face when it comes to inheritance matters. Often, parents wish to be as fair and equitable as possible when leaving assets, property and personal belongings to children. In cases where parents fail to ensure that their wishes to provide equally for all children are concise and clearly laid out in estate planning documents, arguments and disputes between siblings are likely to erupt.

An extreme example of just how messy estate disputes can become involves the multi-million dollar estate of John Griffin, the late founder of Griffin Industries. According to court documents, Griffin and his wife were survived in death by 11 children. At the time of Mr. Griffin’s death, three of his sons allegedly took action to take over property that was intended to be divided among the siblings—a move that allowed the brothers to then sell Griffin Industries for $840 million.

Four of the Griffins’ surviving daughters filed lawsuits against their brothers in which they asserted that their brothers took action to defraud them out of their inheritance. “Despite multiple revisions to the wills,” the sisters assert that it was their parents’ intention that “all of their children would inherit the parents’ stock in Griffin Industries.” One revision to Mr. Griffin’s will was alleged to have been carried out after he suffered a stroke.

A judge recently sided with the sisters, asserting that the brothers intentionally sought to discourage and intimidate them “from seeing information or from questioning their brothers’ decisions.” Together, the judge awarded the sisters $548 million, asserting that the brothers’ actions were in direct violation of their parents’ estate plans and wishes.

While the amount of wealth included in the Griffins’ estate is unique, these types of estate disputes among siblings are far more common. To avoid inheritance-related arguments and lawsuits, parents are encouraged to discuss their estate plan with their children. Doing so can help ensure that everyone is clear about and on the same page with regard to the division and ownership of personal belongings, real estate, business interests and other assets.

Source: Cincinnati Business Courier, “Judge awards $548M in Griffin Industries family dispute,” Andy Brownfield, March 22, 2016