Estate Disputes: How to Mitigate the Family Feud

By October 29, 2012

By Bruce A. Katzen
Because a substantial portion of my practice deals with estate disputes, I regularly hear the question – how could this type of dispute have been avoided?
While I don’t have a crystal ball to forecast every scenario, I do see the same pattern repeat itself: failure to communicate.  Oftentimes, when the testator (the person whose will it is) decides to make an unequal distribution of his or her wealth among siblings, the testator does not communicate this intention prior to his or her death.  Rather, most testators take the passive route, choosing to avoid discussion testamentary intentions and letting the truth come out during the reading of the will.

If a sibling, spouse or child is intentionally disinherited (and especially if there is a significant estate), hurt feelings and anger often lead to probate disputes, pitting loved ones against each other in a fight over the testator’s true intentions.  The disinherited party always suspects undue influence on the part of the inheriting party and disputes often turn ugly and, when the testator’s assets are significant, public.
A simple way to avoid your dirty laundry being aired on the front page of the Miami Herald is to be candid with your loved ones about your intentions.  While the urge to avoid hurt feelings (“I’m going to die anyway, what’s the point?”) is usually strong in the last days of life, failing to disclose testamentary plans could result in a legacy that is riddled with conflict and bad blood instead of love. Or, at the very least, acceptance.