By: Janice Dantes
Death can bring people closer together or rip families apart. Family disputes after people pass away tend to involve substantial inheritances, estranged relatives, remarriages, and the emergence of friends/caregivers. There are typically accusations of undue influence by some relatives who were cut out of the will.
Below are some tips to avoid family disputes over inheritances:
1. Spend Money When You Are Alive. When you are alive and healthy, you can live your life how you want it and spend your money as you see fit. I recommend to everyone to enjoy the fruits of your labor and spend it when you are alive. When you are alive, you can explain why you are doing what you are doing. You can also make gifts to people when you are alive rather than waiting until after you die.
2. Don’t Keep Skeletons in Your Closet. I find in the Filipino community, there is a high occurrence of extramarital affairs and sometimes those affairs result in children outside of the marriage. Sometimes those children are “adopted” by another relative and never know their true history. Just be aware that secrets can come out after you die and that these can cause tremendous family strife later.
3. Talk about your final wishes. If you are cutting someone out of your will, talk about it with your relatives and write a letter explaining your reasoning. When you do it in secret and surprise everyone after you have passed away, there are usually hard feelings. Be open about why you are making your decision especially if you are changing a prior will. Have your intent documented in letters in case there is a will dispute. If you want to cut out your children and give everything to your new younger wife, explain why. If a friend has been particularly close to you, tell your family about that person.
4. If you are the Heir, Acknowledge Your Actions. If you have been cut out of a will, the first response is to be angry. Don’t forget to reflect on your own actions. Were you too busy to visit your parents? Did you place them in a nursing home? If you didn’t provide the help that they may have needed, then don’t be surprised you received less if anything at all. Inheritance is not a right, it is a gift.
5. Cost of Litigation. There is only one winner in a family dispute over money and that winner is the lawyer. The more you fight, the more lawyers make money. Think about why you are fighting and know that litigating in court means that the pie becomes smaller and everyone gets less. If you want to keep money in the family, think long and hard about hiring an attorney. Also, suing relatives may damage a relationship beyond repair.
While it is in my best interest for families to litigate, I do not enjoy seeing families being torn apart by greed. My advice is to try to work this out without the courts. If you have a dispute about inheritance, please contact me at (312) 546-5077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading. Until we meet again, love one another.