In Texas and elsewhere similar familial dramas tend to play out in a small percentage of estates. When an individual dies, the estate administration process is commenced and administered by the personal representative, who is usually a child or other close relative appointed in the will. The representative, or executor of the will, is charged with paying the bills, collecting the assets, making all government filings and tax returns, and ultimately distributing the assets according to the will.
When there is no will, the distribution of assets is specified by the state’s intestacy laws. For some people, it may seem incredible that siblings would argue and engage in seething conflict regarding the distribution of their parent’s assets. A seasoned estate attorney is, however, familiar with the phenomenon, and has by experience developed the skills to assist in resolving such conflicts. In the toughest cases, there will be litigation and a court will issue the final edict.
There are some common patterns of sibling conflict. One is where one child has remained close with the parent, and may be taking care of the parent’s needs. Other children are not as close, and some may have even become estranged over the years. The parent generally favors the close child by bequeathing important assets to him or her, such as the family home or key financial accounts. No matter how far removed the other children are, there are occasionally some who tend to resent that favored treatment.
There may be disputes over transfers made by the decedent to a child prior to death. Additionally, siblings sometimes accuse each other of having used duress or undue influence over the parent during life. Generally, dynamics of sibling rivalry, nourished by decades of bitter wrangling, may flare up in particularly nasty ways during probate.
In Texas and elsewhere, there are helpful ways to try to prevent or at least control such serious impediments to the estate administration process. One is for the parent and children to communicate regarding these matters during the parent’s life. Later disputes can often be minimized by everyone understanding the parent’s wishes and intentions, prior to his or her death.
Source: The Milford Daily News, "Sibling rivalry in probate disputes", Patricia L. Davidson, July 27, 2014