Conflict Management in Estate Administrations
Conflict occurs in many (if not most) families, so it’s no surprise that it often creeps into estate disputes when a close family member dies as well. No family is immune. Many people who encounter family estate disputes and litigation previously thought that a messy inheritance battle would never happen to them.
There can be many potential causes of estate conflict and estate litigation. These include:
- Questions about the validity of the will or other testamentary documents
- Unequal division of property amongst beneficiaries
- Issues relating to surviving family members who were financially dependent upon the deceased; and
- Disagreements about how the deceased’s assets were managed by an attorney for property or guardian during his or her lifetime.
And disputes aren’t always about a valuable asset or a significant sum of money – it can be about whether the deceased is buried or cremated, how a memorial service is carried out, or some other disagreement based on preference or principle.
While complete conflict avoidance is unrealistic for many families, a better focus is on conflict management – taking steps to minimize the impact of conflict and helping ensure a smooth estate settlement. Here are a couple of steps that can help minimize or manage family conflict.
Choose your executor with care
Selecting the right executor to fulfill your wishes completely and accurately can go a long way towards mitigating any possible family squabbles. It’s a big job. The executor is required to locate testamentary documents, plan the funeral, probate the will (if necessary), collect and secure assets, pay debts, attend to any necessary tax filings, and, eventually, distribute the assets of the estate. You want someone with not only a personal connection but also the financial acumen to be effective in their role. You also want someone who:
- understands the circumstances that can lead to conflict
- can keep emotions out of the mix, and
- not get caught up in any related family conflict.
Even if a dispute arises, keep the line of communication open to clarify positions and enhance the understanding of the source of the dispute. An open dialogue – ideally with the help of a good executor – can go a long way to preventing a dispute from escalating and to ultimately resolving it.
Of course, the ideal time for good family communications is during the estate planning process, while the testator is still alive. This article outlines some key steps: http://www.primewealth.ca/e-newsletter/2017/2017-04/article-3.htm. Meeting with family members during the planning process allows the testator to clearly express his or her wishes, but, just as importantly, gives them a chance to listen to the wishes of others. In this way, potential problems can be identified, and, where possible, resolved. This is especially important if it’s known that siblings don’t get along, or there are children from a prior relationship.
Thank you for reading … Have a great day.