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Probate Disputes Between Siblings and Resolving Them

The death of a loved one is an emotional time for their family. Their affairs and assets need to be settled via the probate process. This involves the distribution of assets and inheritance to the decedent’s beneficiaries, paying their debts to creditors, and probating a will if they left one behind. As such, the emotional nature of this process may lead to conflict between siblings or heirs, and this can complicate the probate process and make reaching a resolution difficult.

Emotional Tensions and Unresolved Conflicts

Emotional tensions and unresolved conflicts can arise from a variety of factors, ranging from long-standing resentments or grudges that resurface during the probate process to beliefs concerning how the probate should be handled and what the decedent’s intent and wishes were.

These emotional and interpersonal factors can create a hostile environment, making it difficult for siblings to cooperate, communicate effectively, and work towards a common goal.

Unequal Distribution of Assets

Disputes may also arise in probate cases involving siblings due to unequal distribution of assets.

Unequal distribution of assets refers to the unequal division of inheritance or property among siblings or heirs. It can occur when a deceased parent leaves behind assets that are not distributed equally among their children, often causing resentment and disputes among siblings.

When a parent distributes their assets unequally, it is important to have clear communication with the children about the reasons behind the unequal distribution. This can help prevent misunderstandings and legal battles among siblings, as they will have a clear understanding of their parent’s intentions.

For instance, a parent may choose to distribute their assets unequally because one child may have significant financial needs or have cared for the parent during their lifetime. In such cases, it is important for the parent to communicate the reasons behind their decision to their children and explain how they arrived at the decision.

Clear communication from parents regarding the reasons for differing asset distribution can help prevent resentment and legal battles among siblings.

Disagreements Over Executor Appointment

Disputes can also occur if siblings cannot agree on who should serve as the estate’s executor.

Disagreements over executor appointment refer to situations where siblings or heirs disagree on who should be appointed as the executor of a decedent’s estate. The executor is then responsible for managing and distributing the assets of the decedent in accordance with their will or the state’s intestacy laws if there was no will left behind.

The executor should be someone who is impartial and able to make decisions in the best interests of all heirs. They should have good communication skills, be organized, and have a thorough understanding of the legal and financial requirements of estate settlement. Disagreements over who should serve as the executor can lead to disputes and legal battles among siblings. Therefore, it is crucial for parents to choose an executor who is trustworthy and capable of handling the responsibilities of estate settlement.

Parents should carefully choose an executor who is trustworthy and capable of handling estate settlement responsibilities. Parents should also communicate with their children about the choice of executor, explaining the reasoning behind the decision and addressing any concerns or questions the children may have in order to prevent future misunderstandings and disputes.

Failure to Update Wills After a Child’s Death

One common mistake in wills is neglecting to update them after a child’s death, which can lead to disagreements between the surviving heirs.

For example, if a parent’s will states that their estate should be divided equally among their four children, but one of them has since passed away, it may not be clear how their inherited assets would be distributed among the surviving siblings or their potential heirs. The deceased child’s share may go to their own heirs (if they have any) or they may be divided among the surviving siblings. To prevent such issues, it is essential to update the will after a child’s death. The updated will should clearly state how the deceased sibling’s share of the assets will be distributed among the remaining siblings or their heirs.

It is also important to review and update wills regularly, especially after significant life events such as the birth or death of a family member, a change in financial circumstances, or a change in personal relationships. By regularly updating their will, a person can ensure that their wishes for the distribution of their assets are up to date and will be carried out as intended.

Lack of Clarity in the Will

Unclear or nonspecific instructions in a will can lead to confusion and disagreements between siblings. This can refer to situations where the instructions or contents of the will are vague, unclear, or open to interpretation. This in turn creates confusion and disagreements among siblings, as they may have different interpretations of the deceased parent’s intentions.

For example, a parent may leave a property to their children in their will without specifying how the property should be divided among them. This can lead to disputes among the siblings over who should receive which part of the property or how the property should be sold or managed.

To prevent such issues, it is important for parents to ensure that their wills are clear and specific about asset distribution and any special instructions. The will should clearly state which assets go to which children, how they should be distributed, and any conditions or restrictions on their use. In addition, if a parent wishes to leave specific items or assets to particular children, it is essential to include these instructions in the will, as this can help prevent further misunderstandings and disputes between heirs.

Inadequate Documentation and Accounting of Assets

Proper documentation and accounting of all assets are essential to prevent accusations of unfairness or dishonesty among siblings. Without a proper account taking place, suspicion or accusations of unfairness and dishonesty can arise between them.

During the probate process, it is important to maintain proper documentation and accounting of all assets, including bank accounts, investments, properties, personal possessions, transaction records, expenses, and taxes that may be related to the decedent’s assets. This can help prevent misunderstandings and disputes among siblings and ensure that the distribution of assets is carried out fairly and in accordance with the deceased person’s wishes. In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain professional assistance, such as from an attorney or accountant, to help with the documentation and accounting process. This can ensure that all legal and financial requirements are met and that the probate process is carried out smoothly.

Addressing Sibling Disputes in Probate

When a dispute arises between siblings during the probate process, there are several ways it can be resolved:

  1. Informal Negotiations: Siblings may be able to resolve their differences through open communication and compromise. This can be documented informally or formally by way of a written family settlement agreement.
  2. Mediation: A neutral third party, such as a mediator, can help facilitate a resolution by encouraging communication and exploring possible solutions.
  3. Litigation: If the dispute cannot be resolved informally or through mediation, the siblings may need to go to court. This can involve challenging the validity of the will, disputing the executor’s actions, or contesting the distribution of assets.

Mediation and Family Counseling

When emotional tensions and unresolved conflicts between siblings are complicating the probate process, seeking help from a mediator or family counselor can be beneficial. These professionals can:

  1. Facilitate open and effective communication between siblings, helping them voice their concerns and grievances in a structured and supportive environment.
  2. Assist in identifying the underlying causes of conflicts and tensions, promoting understanding and empathy among siblings.
  3. Provide guidance in developing strategies to resolve disputes and work collaboratively towards a resolution.
  4. Help siblings navigate the emotional challenges of the probate process, promoting healing and reconciliation.

By engaging in mediation or family counseling, siblings can work through their emotional and interpersonal issues, paving the way for a more harmonious probate process.

Other Consideration: Personal and Sentimental Assets

Household effects and sentimental assets are often front and center in probate disputes between siblings. This is often true even if the value of the assets is nominal. When dividing household items among siblings and parents, disputes can often arise due to differences in opinion and perception of value and who is to receive these assets. There are several potential solutions to head off probate disputes between siblings for these assets.

One solution is to identify family heirlooms or sentimental assets beforehand and have an open conversation about them. By determining who would like to keep these assets, siblings can prevent disputes from arising over items with high emotional or historical significance. Another solution is to hire an appraiser for high-value items. This can help determine the assets’ accurate worth, making it easier to split them up fairly among siblings and parents.

Once any sentimental or high-value assets have been identified, siblings can agree on a fair method for dividing the remaining household items. Some common methods include taking turns choosing items, drawing lots, or having a collaborative discussion.

The Takeaway

Probate disputes between siblings can be emotionally and legally complex, but with the guidance of an experienced probate attorney, a fair resolution can be achieved. Having a will, updated regularly, and appointing a trusted executor can help minimize disputes and make the probate process smoother for all involved.

Our Houston Probate Attorneys provide a full range of probate services to our clients, including helping with disputes between siblings. 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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