What Should I Do If There Is Conflict In My Family About My Estate?

Your death will probably be a moment of intense stress for your family.  We are deeply tied to one another psychologically and socially.  When a person is torn from the fabric of our lives, we suffer.  Further, your presence, and the presence of people intimately connected to your life, are the social glue that holds your social world together.  Your absence makes that social world slightly more likely to spin apart.

When a loved one dies, many families find themselves fighting about the decedent’s estate, even when those fighting do not need the money.  Some anger derives from the deep pain of grief.  Other angers have been long simmering.  In my view, the many petty insults and injuries one suffers in the course of living together are frequently not healed, but only submerged.  The death of a loved one can surface those festering little wounds, and create a bitter environment.  This phenomenon is especially prominent when the second-parent-to-die passes, leaving the siblings to work out their new social structure.

If you believe your family is headed toward conflict about your estate after your death, you may wish to intervene before your death.  A competent family therapist or facilitative mediator may be able to help your family members express their concerns and talk about their injuries with one another, leading to reconciliation and healing.  Lancaster Law Office provides such services, as do many other facilitative mediators in the Puget Sound region.  Mediated conversation now may be less bitter than after injurious steps are taken following your death, and having these talks now leaves you the option of expressing your opinions directly to angry family members.

If it appears that family disputes about your estate are unavoidable, despite best efforts at reconciliation, I recommend that you include an in terrorem clause in your Will, which clause reduces the testamentary gift of any legatee challenging your Will to a nominal sum.  You may also express in your Will that you wish all disputes concerning your estate to be settled by mediation.  You might even name the mediator you believe most appropriate.