Family inheritance disputes are legion. In most cases that make headlines, a famous individual passes away without conducting thorough estate planning and various family members publicly feud to get their fair share of the individual's wealth. Our New York City estate planning attorneys often advise clients that these sorts of disputes are not only for the famous or even the wealthy. Family disagreements regarding an inheritance are quite common, particularly when no planning is done and the matters must be left up to the court-centered probate process.
Not only that, but sometimes feuding occurs even before the family matriarch or patriarch passes away.
For example, a recent Sacramento Bee letter explored a situation where two siblings seemingly isolated an aging mother from other siblings. Claims of undue influence and abuse were made. The three ostracized siblings were left wondering what options were available to ensure they received their share of the inheritance.
The case: The 80-year-old mother in the case drafted a will specifying that she wanted all of her assets split evenly between her children. However, after the will was created, two siblings convinced the mother to take out loans totalling more than $100,000 for their children's college education and to purchase a house. One daughter obtained power of attorney over the mother and moved into the mother's home.
Three of the siblings became concerned about the situation, questioning whether their mother was being taken advantage of--they reported their suspicions to local authorities. The mother is now on Social Security and has no assets other than her home--though the children do not know if the house was used as collateral on the loans. The siblings are left wondering if they will have any inheritance at all.
This situation presents a wide range of legal issues, and the case is a reminder of the dangers of relying only on a will. Legally, the resolution of these issues will depend on a range of factors, including whether the siblings signed promissory notes on the loans and whether any changes to the will were made in the time that the daughter has lived with the mother.
No matter how it shakes out, it is likely to be a contentious, drawn-out process.
The lesson: Parents can ensure that their children never deal with this situation by locking down inheritance affairs early on with more expansive legal tools, like trusts. Children are well-served by encouraging their parents to deal with these issues as soon as possible. In our area, New York elder law estate planning attorneys can put the legal plans in place to not only settle inheritance issues but also to save on taxes and provide for potential disability.
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