Probate can often be a complex and emotionally charged process, especially when a dispute arises between siblings.
The distribution of assets and decision-making power can often lead to disputes among siblings.
As a probate attorney in Texas, it is our goal to assist our clients in navigating these challenging situations and ensuring a fair resolution is reached.
Common Probate Problems Between Siblings and Mistakes Made in Wills
Emotional Tensions and Unresolved Conflicts
Emotional tensions and unresolved conflicts between siblings can complicate the probate process and make reaching a resolution difficult.
Emotional tensions and unresolved conflicts can arise from a variety of factors, such as longstanding resentments or grudges that resurface during the probate process and beliefs about 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 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 Selection
Disputes can also occur if siblings cannot agree on who should serve as executor.
Disagreements over executor selection refer to situations where siblings or heirs disagree on who should be appointed as the executor of a deceased parent’s estate. The executor is responsible for managing and distributing the assets of the deceased person in accordance with their will or state law.
When there is disagreement over who should serve as executor, it 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.
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.
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. This can help prevent misunderstandings and disputes among siblings.
Failure to Update Wills After a Sibling’s Death
One common mistake in wills is neglecting to update them after a sibling’s death, which can lead to probate problems and disagreements among surviving siblings.
A will is a legal document that outlines a person’s wishes for the distribution of their assets after they pass away. However, if a sibling mentioned in the will dies before the person creating the will, it can create confusion and conflicts over asset distribution.
For example, if a parent’s will states that their estate should be divided equally among their three children, but one of the children has since passed away, it may not be clear how the assets should be distributed among the surviving siblings. The deceased sibling’s share may go to their own heirs or may be divided among the surviving siblings.
To prevent such issues, it is essential to update the will after a sibling’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.
Ensuring that wills are updated to account for the passing of a sibling can prevent confusion and conflicts over asset distribution.
Lack of Clarity in the Will
Unclear or nonspecific instructions in a will can lead to confusion and disagreements among siblings.
Lack of clarity in a will refers to situations where the instructions in the will are vague, unclear, or open to interpretation. This can create 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. This can help prevent misunderstandings and disputes among siblings.
Parents should ensure that their wills are clear and specific about asset distribution and any special instructions to prevent misunderstandings.
Inadequate Documentation or Accounting of Assets
Proper documentation and accounting of all assets are essential to prevent accusations of unfairness or dishonesty among siblings.
This can create suspicion or accusations of unfairness or dishonesty among siblings, especially during the probate process.
To prevent such issues, it is important to maintain proper documentation and accounting of all assets, including bank accounts, investments, properties, and personal possessions. This includes keeping records of transactions, expenses, and taxes related to these assets.
During the probate process, transparency and thoroughness in documenting assets and transactions are critical. 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.
Transparency and thoroughness in documenting assets and transactions are critical during the probate process.
Resolution During the Probate Process
Probate is the legal process of settling a deceased person’s estate by distributing their assets and paying off their debts. The Texas Estates Code governs the probate process and outlines the responsibilities of the executor, the role of the court, and the rights of the beneficiaries.
There are a number of opportunities to resolve sibling disputes at various stages of the probate process.
Initiating the Probate Process: Filing the Will
Under Texas Estates Code § 256.051, a person in possession of a decedent’s will must file it with the probate court within a reasonable time after learning of the testator’s death. The court will then appoint an executor, typically named in the will, to administer the estate and ensure the decedent’s wishes are carried out.
By filing the will with the court promptly, a sibling can avoid disputes with other siblings over the validity of the will, the chain of custody of the will, and whether there is even a will.
Identifying Heirs and Beneficiaries
One of the executor’s duties is to identify and notify all heirs and beneficiaries.
This is a crucial step in the probate process, as it can sometimes lead to disputes between siblings over the validity of the will, the distribution of assets, or the appointment of the executor.
By identifying and notifying the heirs and benefits, the siblings can avoid disputes by ensuring that everyone is aware of their entitlements under the will. This can help to prevent surprises or misunderstandings that could lead to disputes later on.
Additionally, the executor can provide an opportunity for siblings to ask questions or voice any concerns they may have about the probate process, which can help to foster transparency and reduce the likelihood of disputes.
By taking these steps, siblings may be able to minimize the risk of probate disputes and help to ensure that the process runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Inventory, Appraisal, and Asset Distribution
The executor is responsible for inventorying and appraising the assets of the estate in accordance with Texas Estates Code § 309.051. Once the assets have been accurately valued, the executor will distribute them according to the terms outlined in the will. It is important to note that Texas has a four-year statute of limitations for creditors to make claims against the estate under § 16.004 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
By filing an accurate and correct inventory and providing the siblings with a copy, the siblings can avoid probate disputes by ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the asset distribution process. The inventory and appraisal provide a clear picture of the estate’s assets, their value, and how they will be distributed, which can help to prevent misunderstandings or disputes over who is entitled to what.
Additionally, providing siblings with a copy of the inventory and appraisal can give them the opportunity to review the information and ask questions or raise concerns about the executor’s actions. This can help to foster trust and collaboration among siblings, reducing the likelihood of disputes and ensuring that the estate is distributed fairly and in accordance with the decedent’s wishes.
Paying Debts and Final Accounting
After all assets have been distributed, the executor must pay any outstanding debts of the estate. This may include funeral expenses, taxes, and other liabilities.
While the independent executor is not required to file a final accounting, it doing so may help avoid disputes with siblings by providing a transparent and comprehensive record of the estate’s financial transactions. A final accounting details all of the income and expenses related to the estate, including payments made to creditors, distributions to beneficiaries, and any fees paid to the executor or other professionals involved in the probate process.
By providing siblings with a copy of the final accounting, they can review the financial transactions and ensure that everything was handled correctly and in accordance with the decedent’s wishes. This can help to prevent disputes over the executor’s actions or any discrepancies in the accounting.
Closing the Estate
With the court’s approval, the estate is closed, and the probate process comes to an end.
This rarely happens in Texas probates. The process is usually without end. This allows the estate to remain open indefinitely just in case other assets are located, etc.
The personal representative can ask for a judicial closure, which can provide finality. The court will issue a final order, confirming that the estate has been properly administered and that all debts and distributions have been accounted for.
This is similar to providing an accounting. It can not only provide closure, but the court order relieves the personal representative from liability for his or her actions and for the estate.
Addressing Sibling Disputes in Probate
When a dispute arises between siblings during the probate process, there are several ways it can be resolved:
- 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.
- Mediation: A neutral third party, such as a mediator, can help facilitate a resolution by encouraging communication and exploring possible solutions.
- 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 as a Means of Resolution
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:
- Facilitate open and effective communication between siblings, helping them voice their concerns and grievances in a structured and supportive environment.
- Assist in identifying the underlying causes of conflicts and tensions, promoting understanding and empathy among siblings.
- Provide guidance in developing strategies to resolve disputes and work collaboratively towards a resolution.
- 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.
There are times when dealing with these items can resolve even the thorniest of issues. Here are some general tips for addressing these assets.
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.
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 well-drafted will, updated regularly, and appointing a trusted executor can help minimize disputes and make the probate process smoother for all involved.
Do You Need an Experienced Probate Attorney to Help?
When a loved one dies, there are many things that need to be taken care of in a short amount of time. One of the most important things to do is to hire an experienced probate attorney.
A probate attorney can help you with the legal process of probate, which is the process of distributing a person’s assets after they die. They can also help you with any legal issues that may arise during this time, such as disputes over the will or estate. An experienced probate attorney can also help you navigate through this difficult time and make sure that everything is taken care of properly.
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.
Don't miss out, get a copy today!