September 16, 2019










Reasons Siblings Fight and Contest Wills – and How to Prevent It

When you draft your will, you have the best intentions for your loved ones. You want to provide for them, make sure they have a healthy financial future, and have a little extra for what they need.

Unfortunately, when wills go through probate, emotions, combined with high sums of money, take over. This can lead to fights among siblings, rivalries, and even a contest to your will. Will contests are incredibly costly for your estate and the beneficiaries of your estate.

Therefore, knowing why siblings fight over a will may help you implement a plan to prevent those fights and leave little room for an expensive day in court.

Most Common Reasons Siblings Contest Wills

First of all, realize that a simple fight among siblings is not grounds to contest a will. One sibling may disagree with another, but that does not give them legal ground to challenge the will in court. Instead, there must be a valid ground for contesting.

However, one sibling may take their disagreement and twist it to match one of those common grounds. This is why you should prepare your estate for these situations – regardless of how well the family gets along right now.

One Sibling Receives More Than the Other

If you have more than one child, you may choose to split your estate unevenly. For example, you have two children. In your will, you leave 75 percent of your estate to your eldest and 25 percent to the youngest.

Cases like these almost always lead to a dispute among siblings. One sibling may later try to claim that the will was made under undue influence or that it is forged to favor the older sibling.

If you plan to leave uneven amounts to your children, discuss it with them first so they know ahead of time the amount they are receiving and why you picked those designations. You could also consider alternatives, such as leaving higher value property to one sibling but splitting cash assets equally. Ideally, splitting all assets evenly among your children is best to avoid conflict. But if you do not wish to do so, discuss it, detail it in the will, and put a meeting on the record to avoid hiccups later.

More Than One Will Exists

If you have revised a will or created a new one, your executor must have access to the most recent will. If they attempt to carry out provisions you left in an old will, the newer discovered version will supersede the older one.

Typically, your most recent will would have a statement about how any past versions are invalid. Also, you should have all documents appropriately dated so that, if there is a disagreement about which will is the most recent, the dates will prove their chronological order.

One Child Receives Favoritism

Did you have a child that was always treated as the favorite? Upon your death, that resentment has already built up. And if favored in the will, you may see a rivalry brew in court. One argument may be that the child with favoritism used undue influence to get what they wanted in the will. For example, you resided with one child, financially cared for them while you were alive, and now you leave everything to them in the will. In return for your financial support, this child cared for you. However, the other siblings may use that as an argument for undue influence, stating the one sibling, acting as your caretaker for your day-to-day life, influenced you to leave them all of your assets.

Siblings with a History of Drug or Substance Abuse

Unfortunately, some siblings with a history of substance abuse or even a poor financial history can become the center of accusations during will execution. One sibling might try to accuse another of will fraud, stating that they fraudulently got a parent to sign the will in favor of them, while their parent thought they were signing a health care proxy.

Having proper witnesses when you sign a will is critical. Because not only does the state require a witness, but witnesses can help fight any claims of fraudulent signing or even undue influence accusations.

Co-Trustees

There is one governor of New York, one President of the U.S., and one CEO of a company for a reason: you cannot have too many people managing the same thing. You need an executor to move quickly and make decisions to hurry along the process and distribute assets.

Multiple executors or trustees slows the process. And if the siblings tend to bicker, it will only get worse when it involves money.

Pick one trustee or executor and consider not picking one of your children if they already have a rivalry going on. A neutral third-party may perform better in these situations.

Excluding a Sibling Entirely

A child or beneficiary left out of the will or trust entirely is sure to create a contest situation. After all, the one already left out has nothing to lose by challenging the validity of the will in court.

If you choose to exclude one child from your estate, update your documents and consider creating a trust. Trusts work as a modern disinheritance, and they protect your estate from will contests when one child is left out.

Work Alongside an Attorney to Avoid Sibling Rivalry

While no one can predict the future, you can better your chances of a smooth estate administration when you work with an estate planning attorney. An attorney can get to know your family dynamics. And when you present situations that typically cause a contest, your attorney can look for ways to protect your estate and beneficiaries.

A well-drafted estate plan takes time, and it must be updated annually or at least reviewed to ensure you are not opening the door for contests later.

To create an estate plan that protects your loved ones, contact the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., today. Let us help you with your potential contest situation and find solutions that will lessen the financial burden on your estate and your family.

Schedule a free case evaluation by calling 516-605-0625 or request information online