Sibling Rivalry in Estate Planning

December 11, 2022

By Fhara Pottinger

This article is not about a specific case.

Rather, it is about a disturbing trend in estate disputes and estate litigation that has been observed not only by our law firm, but by many law firms dealing in the field.

THE ISSUE

What we are seeing is a distressing increase in the number of estates where brothers and sisters not only do not get along, but they are prepared to engage in nasty, expensive, long-term legal battles that squander the estate. Over 150 years ago Charles Dickens wrote his great novel Bleak House about an estate that was entirely spent paying the lawyers so that when the dispute was finally resolved, the heirs received nothing.

Bleak House contributed towards the movement to merge the common law courts and the equity courts in England, which people at the time thought would solve the problem. It did make things procedurally clearer, but it did not change human nature.

We are now in the midst of what commentators call “the greatest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history”.

The potential for conflict seems to have increased exponentially. “More money, more disputes” makes sense, but not on this scale.

You might like to think that your children will not waste your estate in this way, but how sure are you?

TAKEAWAYS

  • Before you arrive to give us in wills instructions, this is an issue that you and your spouse (if applicable) must carefully consider.
  • If your children are not friendly or close while you are alive, what will happen once you pass? Just think about it. Think about it seriously.
  • Is their desire to please you a significant reason why they currently remain civil to each other? If so, once you are gone, what is going to happen?
  • Or are there already simmering disputes about a family cottage, or who gets the heirloom jewelry?
  • Once you are no longer here, these disputes will come to a boil.
  • Will your middle-aged children suddenly rediscover their inner 4-year-olds when they demonstrate their differing views of what is fair?
  • This is not unusual, because often those middle-aged children are in very different life situations. Perhaps one has foolishly accumulated a great deal of debt. Perhaps another has several children to put through university and needs cash more than a cottage.
  • There is no absolutely perfect way to avoid your children squabbling over your estate once you are gone. However, carefully considering their life situations, their personalities, and how that matches with the various assets in your estate can reduce the likelihood of expensive litigation.
  • Another key step is to regularly update your will to reflect your children’s changing life situations.
  • We see many clients sit back and think that a will signed five, ten, or even twenty years ago will be fine because the same people are involved as potential beneficiaries.
  • They may be the same people, but will they behave the same as they would years ago? Or will they discover their inner 4-year-olds?

WHAT WEILERS LLP CAN DO TO HELP YOU

At Weilers LLP, we know that these are sensitive subjects. Our wills and estates lawyers know how to talk to you about these issues with the least possible discomfort. We know techniques to attempt to achieve your wishes in a way designed to reduce the possibilities of conflict once you are gone. A will kit, computer program, or even a law office that approach wills on a mass production basis will not give you the same personalized service.

At Weilers LLP, we do not attempt to be the cheapest price in town for wills. We attempt to charge a fair and reasonable price that allows us to spend a bit of extra time with you and in the drafting of the will. That little bit extra may make the difference between having your estate tied up in litigation for years or distributed to your heirs quickly, smoothly, and at a lower cost.

If you don’t  want your estate to turn into a sequel to Bleak House, Weilers LLP may be the law firm for you.