We handle a good number of contested probates in central Oklahoma. The purpose of an estate plan is to either avoid probate or to make sure that probate goes smoothly. There are cases where, for one reason or another, estate planning fails, and we must go to court. The most common reason is, there was never an estate plan put together in the first place. When this happens, family members often find themselves at the courthouse. For a lot of people going to the courthouse, it is nerve-racking, intimidating, and expensive. This atmosphere can cause emotions to escalate and fighting to ensue between family members over issues that should have been addressed by their family before death.
Most people have an idea of what they “believe” they are entitled to receive as their inheritance from their parents, uncle, or distant relative. However, life happens and oftentimes one child is more active in providing for their parents than the other. This can lead to a sense of entitlement. It is common to see a child providing care for a parent in the latter stages of life. That child sometimes moves in with the parent living in the family home and when the parent passes the child remains in the home and can feel the home is theirs. This is often a child who has spent countless hours taking care of a parent who battled through a life-ending disease or illness. The child who spent so much time with the parent at the end of their life feels they are entitled to some sort of compensation for their efforts. If there is a will or trust in place which contains such a provision, that would be true. If there is no will or trust in place, the law might not agree, and a fight can follow.
For various reasons families fight and the passing of a family member can open the closet for the skeletons to come falling causing an epic, costly, and emotional battle. Nothing is more emotional than fighting over your parents “things”. I have been at the courthouse whenever one family member physically attacked another family member. I have been there whenever another family member towed away my client’s car by a wrecker while we stood in the courtroom. I have seen an account with $700,000.00 taken by one sibling and not distributed to the other two siblings even though the will said each child shall receive 1/3, because of a mistake made by the parent at the bank just before they passed. There is example after example where family members fail to prevent a fight and ultimately a divorce results between the children after their passing, family members get mad and stop talking.
I was recently having a conversation with a gentleman’s adult child, who was not happy about the division of the estate. I told them that it is never easy to say this, but it is your parent’s fault you and I are having this conversation. If your parents would have had a will or trust we would have had some direction, but without a will or trust we have to follow what the law tells us on how to divide the estate. In that case, the family members are having a very difficult time, communication has broken down, and it feels more like a divorce than a probate. The only winner in that case is the lawyer because of the cost of the litigation, all of which could have been prevented if a proper estate plan was in place.
Help your family members avoid a divorce after your death. Give them some direction about how you want your things divided between family members, charities, the church or your favorite college after your death. Having to deal with the passing of a parent or family member is difficult enough, ending up in a fight over their “things“ and “money” can make it nearly unbearable.
Please do your family a favor and contact an attorney to discuss an estate plan. If you think Bedlam Law might be a good fit please feel free to give us a call. 405-232-2444, we can help.