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Troy Schwant
Troy Schwant
Attorney • (800) 574-4332

How to prevent a will contest….

5 comments

Over the last year, our office has represented more and more individuals that have either been written out of their parents' wills or people who have received the lion share of the inheritance and are now being sued by their siblings.

For any family a will contest can be an ugly, divisive, and linger for years and destroy a once close family. So how does it happen and how can it be prevented? Will contests almost always arise due to a lack of communication.

When I write 'a lack of communication', what do I mean? I mean that siblings aren't talking to siblings, children aren't talking to parents and parents simply aren't up front about what their plans are regarding their estate. The best way to make sure that nothing shady is going on is by making sure that all beneficiaries of the will know exactly what is happening, even if it is bad news for one child. There are always circumstances that require one sibling being treated differently than an other when it comes to their inheritance, but there is no reason for that sibling to find out after their parents die. Being up front and honest with your child about why he or she is not receiving an equal amount may be hard, but it will also be honest and will likely prevent a will contest in the future. The number of times I have met with people who start the meeting with "My parents never told me that I would be receiving less than my sibling, so obviously my sibling influenced my parents to cut me out." The lack of communication allows family members to believe the worst in other family members as opposed to the possible truth that their parents actually wanted their estate to be split in accordance with their will.

If I may give one piece of unsolicited advice to all parents who are considering changing their will due to a lack of communication by one of their children, please think long and hard before you do it and if you are going to do it, tell them they are being cut out of the will. So many times I will listen to parents talk about how they haven't heard from their son for almost 6 months and therefore they want him out of the will. This type of punishment will not only tarnish a once loving relationship, it will be the last memory your child has of you and you can never take it back. Deciding to favor one child over another is something that should only be done in extreme circumstances due to the divisive nature of that decision.

Finally, if you are the child that your parent decides to give everything to, please do whatever you can do to not be involved with revising the will. Don't recommend a lawyer, don't give them a ride to the lawyer's office, don't ask for certain things be given to you, don't start living in the home you are set to inherit, simply put, don't be the least bit involved with your parents revising their will. If your parent wants to give you everything, the worst thing you can do is help them accomplish this goal. Not only can your actions spur a will contest, it may make one a certainty.

5 Comments

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  1. Shaun Mason says:
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    It’s nice to see practical legal advice like this.

    If would be fantastic if “communicate effectively” were so simple in families with discord. Luckily, as the person in control of the situation (i.e. the person who has an estate to distribute) you are very much in control of communication. That doesn’t mean everyone will like it.

    The final paragraph is very good advice in my experience.

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    My father is getting to the age where having his will in order is important. Your article makes some great points everyone with elderly relatives should be aware of.

  3. Chance in SC says:
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    This is something I don’t look forward to in my family because we definitely have a lack of communication. Hopefully, I can heed your advice and prevent anything messy that will strain relationships even more. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Matthew Keller says:
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    As stated above, the final paragraph really strikes a chord for me. This is not something I ever really thought about but I’m glad I took the time to read it – concise and to the point advice. I’ve seen this sort of thing first hand and I can attest to seriousness of the aftermath.

  5. Drew Holoubek says:
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    Interesting read, I went through an issue similar to this when I was 18 and found out I was to inherit some money from an uncle who died. My mother explained why I was getting 80% of the estate while my younger sister was only getting 20% (due to the timing of when we were born and when the will was written) which really helped us understand that it wasn’t anything personal, but was just the logistics of the situation.