October 31, 2013
Probate lawyers in Sacramento work with their clients to put together plans that clearly explain what the client wants. At least, that’s the hope. When it comes to the administration of a will, however, there are several instances where a will is contested, often by an adult child of the decedent.
One of the biggest problems that leads to a will being contested has to do with communication within the family. This can relate to parents not communicating their wishes to their children and relying on a will to do it for them, or to siblings not communicating with one another during the will administration so that everyone has a different perspective on what is going on.
There are several reasons a will can be contested, and there are also ways that our Sacramento probate lawyers help families and individuals proactively avoid the expense and drama.
Unequal Distribution Among Beneficiaries
When one sibling receives less than another (either in reality or in perception), it can trigger a desire to contest the will. Really, though, there are plenty of good reasons for an unequal distribution. Perhaps one child acted as the parent’s caretaker, and a bigger portion of the estate is being left to him or her as compensation. Sometimes a business is left to one or more siblings, with a larger portion of the personal estate left to another. It’s almost impossible to make these things “even,” and some siblings may choose to squabble about it.
In many cases, these issues can be avoided or mitigated by making sure to explain in the will the reason for decisions that are being made. That way, not only is there an explanation that can help stop a will from being contested, there is also recourse for the courts to rule in favor of the original intentions.
A commonly-cited reason for stopping the will administration process by contesting the will is “diminished capacity.” In these cases, someone with a stake in the outcome of the will tells the courts that he or she believes that the deceased wasn’t capable of making good decisions due to some sort of mental impairment. Even if you are perfectly reasonable and sound at the time that you make changes to your will, that doesn’t mean that someone can’t come back after your death and suggest that you weren’t.
In order to help discourage this from happening during the Sacramento probate court process, it may be helpful to put your reasons for changes directly into the will. Again, this comes back to communication. If you communicate why you are making changes by writing it into the will, you can help avoid some major issues. Additionally, you may even wish to have your doctor evaluate you at the time to ensure that you are not suffering from diminished capacity.
Disinheritance of one beneficiary can certainly trigger a lawsuit against the estate. While you may have perfectly good reasons for the disinheritance, that doesn’t mean that the disinherited person will agree. Sometimes just contesting the will on these grounds is enough to get the other heirs to provide a financial settlement in order to avoid a drawn-out and expensive court process.
As mentioned above, communication is key. Describe in the will why you have made the decisions you have regarding disinheriting someone. Cover your bases when it comes to diminished capacity by speaking with your doctor. You may also want to discuss your decision with a third party (perhaps your probate attorney) who will be able to bring that understanding to the situation when it comes time for the actual will administration.