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Estates Lawyer Discusses Strategies for Addressing Inheritance Challenges

Estate disputes are common and span across different cultures and societies. There has been a notable surge in court cases surrounding wills, with a 34% rise in the last five years and an astonishing 140% increase over the past decade.

From exploring alternative estates dispute resolution methods to understanding the benefits of litigation, this article offers valuable estate litigation advice to help you achieve a favourable outcome.

Role of an Estate Lawyer

Estate lawyers maintain family harmony and fairly distribute assets after a client’s death. They guide to prevent conflicts, encourage reconciliation among family members, and protect against manipulation while honouring clients’ wishes and considering surviving family members’ needs.

Motivations for Material Inheritance

Researchers from the European Journal of Ageing carried out a study, which suggests that motivations for inheritance decisions vary on a continuum. It utilizes the critical incidents technique (CIT) to collect data from 43 participants, identifying the following principal reasons: 

Motivation Details
Altruism  A genuine desire to ensure fairness and equal treatment among their family members.
Equity It avoids any perception of unfair treatment and ensures rightful share.
Reciprocation Provides certain benefits or fulfills specific obligations in exchange for their inheritance.
Egoism Prioritizes their self-interests above the needs or expectations of other family members.

Inheritance Disputes and Actions

An estates dispute can damage memories and impede healing when loved ones disagree over division. Here are common conflicts and solutions.

Siblings Excluded from Wills

Siblings dispute when intentionally or unintentionally left out of a parent’s will. Reasons include intentional disinheritance, outdated wills, or non-legal relationship status. Disputes can occur over decreased estate shares upon addition to an omitted child.

Surviving Spouse’s Legal Claim after Divorce

In some states, the law cancels the inheritance rights of ex-spouses after a divorce. However, disputes can still happen if estate planning documents are old and outdated. Problems occur with who is named as the beneficiary on accounts and life insurance policies. You might need to take legal action to stop ex-spouses from wrongly getting payouts.

Step-Relations Inheritance Disputes

Conflicts arise over estate distribution between step-children and second spouses in blended families. “Sweetheart Wills” can leave step-children without inheritance rights after the second spouse’s death.

Family Conflict over Property Inheritance

Even when beneficiaries agree on dividing the estate’s overall value, disputes can still happen about who gets specific items and how much these items are worth. Having a detailed and current list of everything in the estate is important. Getting experts involved can help ensure that property distribution is fair.

Disputes Over Last-Minute Estate Plan Changes

Inheritance disputes grow when there are sudden changes to estate plans, often leading to claims of undue influence. To challenge this, one must show that the will doesn’t truly represent the grantor’s wishes because of fraud or pressure. Winning these disputes is hard but important for protecting the rights of family members involved.

Types of Inheritance Challenges

Types Reasons Process Outcome
Contested Wills Suspicions of fraud, lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, or improper execution by the will maker. Argue the will’s validity, involving presenting evidence and arguments in court. Previous wills or intestacy laws may determine asset distribution if the court order deems the will invalid.
Family Provision Claims A belief by family members of not having been adequately provided for in the will, especially a family member like a spouse, child, or any dependent. Challenge asset distribution and pursue greater share based on factors like financial need, their relationship with the deceased person, and contributions made to the estate. A court determines the distribution of assets of the deceased’s estate and adjusts it to ensure fair provision for the claimant, potentially impacting the shares of other beneficiaries.
Disputes Over Assets Unclear or ambiguous terms in the will, differing interpretations of the deceased’s intentions, or conflicting claims to specific assets. Mediation, negotiation, or estate litigation to determine rightful ownership or distribution of assets. Asset partition, sale, or distribution based on court rulings, settlements, or agreements reached among beneficiaries.

Strategies for Addressing Inheritance Challenges

Early Assessment

Early assessment of estate assets and potential challenges helps identify areas of dispute. By examining the will, identifying beneficiaries, and anticipating disputes, you can plan ahead and take steps to prevent conflicts.

Communication Among Beneficiaries

Open dialogue among beneficiaries is important for addressing conflicts and fostering collaboration in resolving disputes.

Mediation and Negotiation

Holding mediation or negotiation sessions provides a structured setting for solving inheritance disputes. Bringing in a neutral mediator helps address sensitive issues and encourages compromise among beneficiaries.

Seeking Legal Guidance

Seeking early advice from experienced estate planning and inheritance law professionals provides invaluable guidance. This aids beneficiaries in understanding their rights and developing effective dispute-resolution strategies.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Exploring options like arbitration or collaborative law can lower legal costs for estate litigation. These methods offer flexibility and confidentiality and empower beneficiaries to create solutions everyone agrees on.

Documenting Agreements

Writing down agreements in formal contracts makes things clear and enforceable for beneficiaries. Recording what everyone agreed to during mediation or negotiation sessions helps avoid misunderstandings and ensures everyone follows through with the resolution.

Navigating Successful Strategies

Inheritance disputes are complex and emotional, so it’s important to consider different strategies. From mediation and negotiation to estate litigation, exploring various approaches can improve your chances of a positive outcome. 

Understanding estate law, collecting evidence, and hiring skilled legal help can help you navigate these challenges and increase your chances of resolving the dispute.

Case Example

Inheritance disputes, like the case of Melita Jackson and her daughter Heather, illustrate the legal complexities and emotional tensions arising from familial conflicts over testamentary freedom and family obligations.

  • Melita Jackson decided to disinherit her daughter Heather due to a strained relationship dating back to 1978 when Heather left home at 17.
  • Despite intermittent reconciliations, including after the birth of Heather’s child in 1983, Melita formally disinherited Heather in 1984.
  • Various attempts at reconciliation failed, with Melita cutting off Heather for good in 1999 after an encounter at the dentist’s.
  • Melita passed away in 2004, leaving her entire estate to three animal charities, explicitly denying Heather any share.
  • Heather contested the will under the 1975 Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act, which protects close dependents from being completely disinherited.
  • After a lengthy legal battle, Heather received £164,000 from her mother’s estate worth £486,000 by the court of appeal in 2024.

Insights

Heather’s case highlights how important legal knowledge is in estate litigation. She relied on the 1975 Inheritance Act to defend her rights. Balancing her emotions with legal tactics was key, leading to her success. This shows that it’s possible to settle inheritance disputes fairly and effectively.

Take Control of Your Inheritance

Handling inheritance issues requires both legal expertise and strong communication skills. Beneficiaries can navigate the complex world of estate litigation, reduce conflicts, and find resolutions everyone agrees on by actively communicating and considering different ways to solve disputes.

Seek legal advice from experienced estate lawyers in British Columbia to help people handle tricky family situations and ensure they get what they’re entitled to.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to resolve an estate dispute in British Columbia?

The duration involved in settling disputes in British Columbia can vary widely based on influences such as the complexity of estate litigation, the parties’ willingness to negotiate, and the Supreme Court’s schedule. Some conflicts may be resolved relatively quickly through mediation or settlement, while others may require lengthy estate litigation. 

During the estate administration process, parties involved may encounter issues that lead to such a claim or a wills variation claim. It’s important to handle estate matters efficiently, distribute the estate fairly, and honour the estate grant.

What is the role of an executor or trustee in an estate dispute?

Executors and trustees are responsible for administering the estate or trust relying on the terms of the will or trust document. In the event of a dispute, their role may involve representing the estate’s interests, responding to challenges, and ensuring the appropriate distribution of assets.

What are the grounds for contesting a will based on British Columbia law?

In British Columbia, the grounds are set out in the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) and may include:

  • Lack of Testamentary Capacity: The testator lacked the mental capacity to understand the implications of making the will when it was created.
  • Fraud or Forgery: If the will was procured by fraud or if the will was forged, it may be contested.
  • Improper Execution: The testator must sign the will in the presence of witnesses for it to be valid; failure to do so may result in contestation.

Can an estate dispute be avoided?

While not all estate disputes are avoidable, specific measures can help minimize the likelihood of estate conflicts, such as:

  • Creating a clear and comprehensive will or trust legal document with the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.
  • Communicating openly with each family member and beneficiary about estate planning decisions.
  • Updating estate planning legal documents regularly to reflect changing circumstances.
  • Choosing executors or trustees who are trustworthy and capable of fulfilling their duties impartially.
  • Seeking estate litigation advice on potential tax implications and strategies for asset distribution.

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