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Disputes Between Heirs Over Assets

Losing a loved one is an emotionally challenging experience. The process of settling their estate is complicated.

This can put the survivors under quite a bit of stress. The stress often results in people acting and taking actions that they would not normally take. This can include everything from cutting corners, skirting even the most basic requests or duties, and, in some cases, outright theft.

These types of issues often result in probate litigation.

Probate litigation itself can be complicated and time-consuming. One of the most common issues that often require litigation is disputes between the heirs over assets.

Common Causes of Inheritance Disputes and Property Inheritance Disputes

Lack of Clarity in the Will or Estate Plan

One of the most common causes of inheritance disputes is a lack of clarity in the will or estate plan. This can lead to confusion and disagreements among heirs, particularly it can create tension and conflict between family members.

For example, if a parent leaves their house to all their children equally, but does not specify how the property should be divided, this can cause problems. One child may want to sell the house and split the proceeds evenly, while another may want to keep the house and buy out their siblings’ shares. Without clear instructions from the parent, this can lead to arguments and resentment among siblings.

Unequal Distribution of Assets Among Heirs

Another common cause of inheritance disputes is an unequal distribution of assets among heirs. This is often seen in cases where one heir feels they have been unfairly treated compared to others. For example, if a parent leaves more money or property to one child than another without any explanation, it can create feelings of anger and resentment.

In some cases, parents may have valid reasons for leaving more assets to one child over another. For instance, one child may have provided more care for them during their old age or had greater financial need at the time of their death. However, if these reasons are not communicated clearly in the will or estate plan, it can lead to misunderstandings and disputes.

Family Conflicts and Tensions

Family conflicts and tensions are also common causes of inheritance disputes. Often these conflicts stem from unresolved issues that resurface during the distribution of assets after a parent’s death. For example, two siblings who never got along well as children may find themselves fighting over their parents’ estate years later.

In other cases, long-standing resentments between family members may come into play during an inheritance dispute. These conflicts can be especially difficult to resolve because they are often rooted in deep-seated emotions and can be exacerbated by the stress of dealing with a loved one’s death.

Disputes Over the Validity of the Will or Estate Plan

Finally, disputes over the validity of the will or estate plan can arise if there are concerns about the testator’s mental capacity or undue influence from another party. For example, if a parent changes their will shortly before their death and it appears that someone else may have pressured them into doing so, this can lead to challenges to the will’s validity.

Similarly, if there are questions about whether a parent was of sound mind when they created their estate plan, this can also lead to disputes. In these cases, it may be necessary to involve attorneys to help determine whether the will or estate plan is valid.

Case Study: The Independent Brother

Let’s consider a case study involving a fairly common fact pattern. Consider a case between two brothers who are at odds over their father’s estate. John resides out of state.

John and his brother are equal beneficiaries of their father’s estate. John’s older brother was appointed as the independent administrator of the estate. The estate went through probate from October 2018 to April 2019.

Now a year later, John has not been provided with any paperwork or probate inventory from his older brother. Additionally, the brother sold one of the homes and John never received paperwork for it. John only a nominal check from his brother in December 2019.

John’s older brother has moved into the last remaining home and taken it over as his own and is not returning John’s phone calls.

Heir Disputes Over Probate Assets

This fairly common fact pattern highlights some of the more common disputes that lead to probate litigation. This can include challenges to the validity of wills, disputes over the interpretation of trust agreements, claims against fiduciaries, accounting issues, spousal inheritance rights, and more.

There are also several solutions available to navigate these challenges. This can include working with a probate attorney, conducting a thorough search for assets, and using search tools to locate and claim unclaimed property.


Lack of Communication and Transparency from the Executor

One of the biggest issues in this type of case is the lack of communication and transparency from the executor. This can make it difficult for a beneficiary to understand the distribution of assets and ensure that they are receiving their fair share.

In Texas, the executor of an estate is required to provide an inventory of the assets and liabilities of the estate to the court within 90 days of being appointed. The inventory should include a description of the assets, their value, and any liabilities. If the executor fails to provide an inventory, they can be held in contempt of court.

Additionally, the beneficiaries are entitled to receive a copy of the inventory and can request one from the executor.

Sale of Property

Another issue in this type of case is the alleged sale of the property.

John claims that his older brother sold one of the homes without his knowledge or consent. In Texas, the sale of property during probate may or may not have to be approved by the court.

With dependent administrations, the executor must file a petition with the court outlining the terms of the sale and it must be approved. If the sale wasn’t approved by the court or the beneficiary wasn’t notified, it may be considered an illegal sale.

The independent administrator, in the case of independent administrations, does not have to get court approval first. The Texas Estates Code allows the executor to sell the property.

Possession of Property by the Executor

In Texas, the executor of an estate is not permitted to take possession of property for their own benefit. The executor must preserve and protect the assets of the estate until they can be distributed to the beneficiaries.

Therefore, if the older brother is found to be in possession of the property for his own benefit, it may be considered a breach of his fiduciary duty as executor.

With that said, if this is an independent administration, the brother may be able to distribute the house to himself in satisfaction of some or all of his share of the probate estate.

Inadequate Distribution of Assets

Another issue is the nominal distribution check John received in December 2019.

In Texas, the executor is required to distribute the assets of the estate as soon as possible. It must be in accordance with the will or the laws of intestacy.

This fact pattern suggests that the distribution of assets may not have been fair and equitable among all beneficiaries. In such a case, the beneficiaries can seek a fair distribution of assets through the court.

Potential Solutions

Request for an Accounting

First, John should request an accounting from the executor if he thinks the assets weren’t accounted for or distributed correctly.

An accounting is a detailed report of the assets and liabilities of the estate, as well as all transactions made by the executor. There are some timing rules that apply, but upon request, the executor is required to provide an accounting to the beneficiaries.

This can help John understand the distribution of assets and ensure he’s receiving his fair share. If it shows that the distribution wasn’t fair, John can take legal action.

Fortunately, if the distribution of assets is found to be inadequate, John can seek a fair distribution of assets through the court.

Undo an Illegal Sale of Property

If the sale of the home was illegal, John can take legal action, by filing a motion to have the sale undone. If successful, the property will be returned to the estate.

Additionally, John can request that the executor be held in contempt of court for failing to follow the proper procedures.

Remove Executor

If the executor is found to be in breach of their fiduciary duty, John can petition the court to remove them as executor. This will result in a new executor, who can ensure the assets are distributed fairly and the beneficiaries are kept informed of the estate’s progress.

Probate Mediation

Mediation can be a useful tool to try and resolve the dispute before resorting to litigation in probate cases.

Mediation is a voluntary process where the parties involved work with a neutral third party, known as a mediator, to try to come to a mutually acceptable resolution.

Mediation can be less expensive and less time-consuming than going to court, which can be a significant benefit for individuals who may not want to spend a lot of time or money on litigation. Additionally, mediation can help to preserve family relationships, which can be important for siblings who may want to maintain a relationship even after the dispute is resolved.

In the case study provided, John and his older brother are at odds over their father’s estate. John has concerns about the lack of communication and transparency from his older brother, and he believes that the distribution of assets may not have been fair.

Instead of going to court, John could suggest mediation to his older brother as a way to try and resolve the dispute. A mediator could help the brothers to communicate more effectively, understand each other’s concerns, and work towards a resolution that is mutually acceptable.

Ultimately, whether mediation is a good option will depend on the specific circumstances of the case. However, it is always worth considering as an alternative to litigation in a probate dispute.


Probate can be confusing and stressful for beneficiaries, especially if the executor is not communicating or acting in their best interest. In this case study, John has several legal options available to ensure he receives his fair share.

Furthermore, he should consult with an experienced probate attorney to understand the specific laws and procedures in Texas to determine the best course of action. Ultimately, it’s important for beneficiaries to be informed of their rights and to take action if they believe that the executor is not fulfilling their duties.

Our Houston Probate Attorneys provide a full range of probate services to our clients, including helping with disputes between heirs. Affordable rates, fixed fees, and payment plans are available. We provide step-by-step instructions, guidance, checklists, and more for completing the probate process. We have years of combined experience we can use to support and guide you with probate and estate matters. Call us today for a FREE attorney consultation.


The content of this website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information presented may not apply to your situation and should not be acted upon without consulting a qualified probate attorney. We encourage you to seek the advice of a competent attorney with any legal questions you may have.

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