What Causes an Inheritance Dispute?

According to the National Association of Plan Advisors, Baby Boomers will eventually leave their beneficiaries $53 trillion, representing the greatest wealth transfer ever recorded in human history. With so much on the line, inheritance disputes are almost inevitable.

If you’re trying to secure your family’s legacy, it makes sense to learn why and how these disputes arise. A strong understanding of inheritance disputes not only allows you to handle them efficiently but can also help you prevent them altogether. While research can provide basic education on this subject, additional steps are necessary if you’re serious about handling disputes.

If you need legal advice regarding inheritance disputes or estate planning in general, William C. Roof Law Group is here to help. This article will explore the nature of inheritance disputes, including precipitating factors, tips for dispute resolution, and when to involve an estate planning attorney with litigation experience to help you attempt to resolve your dispute–or take the case to trial.

Understanding Inheritance Disputes

An inheritance dispute often arises when beneficiaries, trustees, and various other parties cannot agree on how funds should be distributed. Disputes also arise when family members feel that they should have been named as beneficiaries–or that perhaps they were improperly removed from a decedent’s will or trust.

Assuming the deceased person established estate planning documents before their passing, inheritance instructions should be clear. An effective last will and testament will address inheritance issues in writing with witnesses and signatures, and other estate planning tools, such as trusts, may provide additional instructions.

If these documents were drafted by an estate planning attorney in Orlando, they may be difficult to challenge in court. Those who wish to dispute inheritance may need to challenge the legal legitimacy of these estate planning documents, and although it can be difficult, there are many ways to accomplish this goal. 

What Factors Lead to an Inheritance Dispute?

Family inheritance disputes may arise from a range of potential issues. Common causes of inheritance disputes include strong emotions, fraught family relationships, financial needs, and even allegations of fraud. We will discuss some of the most prevalent factors in greater detail below.

Accusations of Fraud or Coercion

The most alarming inheritance disputes involve accusations of fraud, coercion, undue influence, or similar acts of misconduct. For example, a concerned family member may believe that someone scammed or manipulated the decedent into altering their will or trust, perhaps convincing them to sign or alter it on their deathbed. Estate planning law requires a person to be of sound mind when creating or altering a valid will or trust, meaning the presence of cognitive impairments, reduced mental capacity, intoxicating medication, and even advanced age can be grounds to challenge a modification or change to a will or trust document.

Even in the absence of cognitive impairments, some decedents are vulnerable to scams, and fraudsters may forge estate planning documents without their knowledge, completing them with falsified signatures. A particularly concerning issue among seniors today is romance fraud, and beneficiaries are often shocked to learn that the entire family fortune has fallen into the hands of a manipulative “partner.” Unfortunately, senior financial abuse (also referred to as “elder abuse”) is more common than ever in the digital age.

Attempts to Invalidate the Will

Aside from fraud or coercion, wills or trusts may be invalid for many other reasons. For example, a will might lack witness signatures, or perhaps the documents were not sufficiently understood by the decedent. In these cases, beneficiaries can attempt to invalidate a will or trust in court, as can family members who believe they should have been named as beneficiaries. The unique facts of each circumstance weigh heavily on the success of such claims.

Perceived Inequality

Many inheritance disputes are sparked by perceived inequality among beneficiaries. For example, one child may receive more assets than their sibling, and the other sibling may feel slighted. That sibling may have the right to pursue a more equal share of the family fortune by disputing their inheritance. In some cases, decedents choose not to name even their closest family members as beneficiaries. Children, spouses, and siblings who have been “disowned” in this manner may also raise legal questions during court proceedings about the legitimacy of the will.

Even if all beneficiaries receive equal shares, they may inherit funds in different ways. For example, one beneficiary might receive a lump sum, while another may be forced to accept periodic distributions from a spendthrift trust. This is a common estate planning strategy to protect certain beneficiaries that stand to inherit large sums of money from their gambling or substance abuse problems. Beneficiaries of restricted inheritances may be able to dispute not only the amount of their inheritance but also how they receive it.

Failures of Intentionality

Sometimes, the decedent’s estate plan fails to name beneficiaries in their will or trust due to honest mistakes. These “failures of intentionality” often form the basis of inheritance disputes in Florida. In some cases, these oversights occur because outdated wills or trusts do not reflect recent life changes, such as new children, spouses, or divorces, laying the foundation for a possible inheritance dispute.

Dying Without a Will

Although families may argue about the legitimacy of existing documents, the complete absence of wills may also cause disputes. When a decent in Florida passes without creating a will, they die “intestate.” In these cases, since there are no instructions to follow, Florida probate courts must instead use pre-set “rules of succession” to govern the estate’s distribution.

Additionally, family members may have very different ideas about how funds should be distributed, and they may dispute this predetermined process in court. This may be especially necessary if the funds fall into the hands of clearly inappropriate beneficiaries, such as recently divorced spouses. Ultimately, dying in a state of intestacy can result in various legal battles and will disputes to challenge your estate plan.

How to Resolve an Inheritance Dispute

Families in Florida should strive to resolve inheritance disputes in a time-effective, affordable manner. There is nothing stopping beneficiaries and other parties from coming together and addressing concerns in private. Sometimes, these private discussions can resolve issues quickly without any additional legal costs.

However, it may be difficult to handle complex legal issues without guidance from an estate planning lawyer. Estate planning and inheritance laws are not endeavors for the untrained. Beneficiaries may better understand and resolve these issues after contacting an inheritance dispute lawyer to guide them toward positive outcomes while participating in family discussions.

Mediation is a formal, standardized type of private discussion, often overseen by a neutral third party called a mediator. These negotiations can help disputing parties arrive at mutually beneficial compromises. The goal of mediation is to avoid litigation, which is typically a more expensive and time-consuming process. If families fail to resolve inheritance disputes through these alternative strategies, they may have no choice but to pursue litigation. This process occurs in the Florida court system and it can be very complex. 

When to Involve an Inheritance Dispute Lawyer

If you believe that your loved one’s will is invalid, you may challenge it with help from an inheritance dispute lawyer. An inheritance dispute lawyer can also help you defend the validity of a will being challenged by someone else, or help you pursue your fair share of a will that you were not named in but believe you should have been. Finally, an inheritance dispute lawyer can help with matters related to intestate succession. 

William C. Roof Law Group: Top Estate Planning Attorneys in Orlando, FL

While inheritance disputes are sometimes unavoidable, they can be efficiently resolved with the guidance of a law firm that practices estate planning litigation. Online research represents a positive first step, but an article cannot provide you with targeted advice based on your family’s unique needs. For more accurate guidance, book a consultation with the William C. Law Group today

The contents of this article are not comprehensive, they provide only a general overview of the subject matter discussed. This article does not establish a client-attorney relationship with the reader, and no legal decisions should be made based on the article’s contents. Because every legal matter arises under unique facts specific to the client, no legal decision should be made without consulting a licensed attorney.

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