Disputes regarding estates occur all the time. These matters play out in the New York Surrogate’s Courts which is the primary forum where a decedent’s estate issues are determined. Estate lawyers in New York are familiar with all types of cases ranging from Will contests to the appointment of an administrator in the event of intestacy. A recent internet search disclosed that a prevalent area of dispute involves siblings. In fact, according to a reference to research performed by Ameriprise, 70% of the conflicts between siblings are related to their parents.
When it comes to estates, siblings may have conflicts over many things. For example, a brother or sister may feel that they were treated unfairly in a parent’s Last Will especially if their bequest was small or they were disinherited. In these types of cases a parent may have had good reasons to treat their children differently – one child may be well-off and another may need the extra support to survive. It is not uncommon for a child to be estranged. I represented a named executor in upholding the validity of a Will where a disinherited child filed objections to probate even though the child had virtually no contact with the decedent for decades.
On the other hand, a sibling may have very legitimate complaints where another sibling appears to have taken advantage of an older and ill parent to unduly influence the creation of a new estate plan in his favor. Undue influence is always difficult to prove but facts which show a decedent’s susceptibility and opportunity for wrongdoing often lead to estate litigation. Sometimes a sibling may arrange for a transfer of a parent’s assets even before death. These situations often result in the commencement of an Article 81 Guardianship proceeding to have a Court supervise the parent’s assets during his lifetime and prevent improper transfers or dissipation. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contains many articles discussing Guardianships.
There are many avenues which can be taken to try and prevent unjust estate outcomes. A number of these methods are outlined in an article that appeared at Investopedia.com on December 16, 2020 written by Barbara Weltman entitled “Tips to Help Siblings Avoid or Resolve an Estate Battle”. The article’s suggestions include creating a well-planned Last Will and Testament or even a Living Trust. Also, lifetime gifts by a parent may be a way to avoid any post-death disagreements.
In my experience, creating estate planning documents that are well thought out with clearly defined provisions is always a good way to begin to avoid uncertainty and disagreements. Also, depending upon the situation, including the children in the planning process and discussing the various issues and concerns can alleviate any distrust between siblings.
Unfortunately, even the best of plans cannot prevent litigation in the Surrogate’s Court and disputes regarding the administration of a decedent’s estate. I have represented clients in these matters both in probate cases and intestate administration proceedings. Call me now for a free confidential review of your estate or guardianship issue. We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.
New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 40 years resolve issues relating to guardianship and probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau and Suffolk County. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.