What Happens When Siblings Start Fighting Over an Estate?


It’s not uncommon for siblings to fight over their recently deceased parent’s estate. This can lead to expensive and lengthy legal proceedings and a lot of extra stress. Thankfully, there are multiple strategies you can use to either mediate the situation or prevent it from happening altogether.

Estate planning plays a major role in mediating fights between siblings over an estate, as it can preemptively address many issues that siblings may encounter after a parent passes on.

A will is a clear way to elucidate who should inherit the business, the house, and other assets. It’s never too soon to begin your estate plan, and don’t forget to keep it updated along with any relevant life changes, such as a divorce or a new grandchild. In some cases, seeking legal guidance will help you avoid or solve existing conflict over an estate.

Sibling Disputes and Estate Planning

  • Siblings don’t always agree on how an estate should be distributed
  • Estate planning can help the parent lay out their wishes to prevent confusion
  • The siblings can use a mediator to distribute assets after their parent dies
  • In some cases, you can contest a will if you disagree with its terms
  • Working with an attorney can help minimize existing or potential conflicts over a parent’s estate plan

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Creating a Will in Arizona

Planning what will happen to your estate after death can preemptively bypass many potential issues that come up when a parent passes on. You can make a will to determine who gets the business, the house, and other valuable items. You can also leave directions for selling off certain assets and direct the beneficiaries to split the proceeds.

You’re under no obligation to leave assets for your relatives. But, while it’s legally permissible to leave your child out of your will, you may want to mention why you did so in the will or speak with them about it. This can prevent confusion or additional legal challenges later with the disinherited child.

Using a Trust

A trust is an estate planning tool that gives your assets legal protection and ensures that they’re distributed the way you want them to be after you pass. A trust saves time, reduces paperwork, and can even reduce or avoid estate or inheritance taxes.  A revocable trust is made while you’re still alive and can be changed at any point during your life.

Choosing an Executor

The executor of your estate plays an essential role in ensuring that your assets are properly distributed. If you create your estate plan and assume there may be sibling rivalry over its terms, it’s best to use a non-sibling trustee or executor. Having an impartial third-party in this role may be essential to avoid conflict and reach the fairest possible outcome.

What if the Parent Already Passed On? 

If your parent already passed on and didn’t make an estate plan or give enough details, problems may arise over distributing their assets. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to make this smoother:

Speak with a Mediator

If you’ve had a difficult time reaching a resolution with your siblings about your family business, you can bring everyone together with a mediator and try again.

Sell the Assets

If you can’t agree with your sibling on who should own a particular asset, you can liquidate it and split the proceeds.

Decline to Serve as Executor

You can keep the peace by declining to serve as the executor for your parent’s estate. However, you should only do this if you can agree with your sibling about who should act as the fiduciary instead. You’ll also need to consider the extra costs for this service and whether the estate can cover it.

How Working With an Attorney Can Help

As mentioned, working with an objective third-party can help with mediating a difficult situation regarding your parent’s estate. This can be an estate planning attorney or just an individual you can trust to remain neutral. An estate attorney will also be able to help you if you need to create or revise an existing estate plan.

Frequently Asked Questions on Estate Disputes

Here are some common queries regarding disputes over a parent’s estate:

Q: Can I contest the contents of my parent’s will?

If you don’t believe that a friend or family member’s will accurately reflects their desires, you might be able to file a will contest. This is a type of lawsuit that aims to invalidate someone’s will after they’ve passed on.

If you decide to go this route, keep in mind that it can be expensive and time-consuming. To contest a will, you must either be a beneficiary from the deceased person’s previous will or an intestate heir.

Q: How long can an executor take to settle an estate?

The executor must fulfill certain requirements and responsibilities before he or she can close an estate. If they improperly manage the estate, they might be held responsible for any financial consequences regarding taxes or creditors. The probate process usually takes between six and 12 months, but with a complicated estate or an executor who delays their duties, it could take longer.

Q: What other simple steps can I take to prevent confusion about my estate after I pass?

If you already know which of your children you want to inherit your house, there’s a simple step you can take to ensure that happens. Just switch your property to joint ownership with your child so that it automatically passes to them when you die. This strategy will work with real estate property, a brokerage account, and bank accounts.

What to Do if You Need Help Mediating a Will in Arizona

Most parents will know when there’s a risk of dispute over the terms of their estate and should take steps to mitigate this. A solid estate plan is a great first step. Just remember that your estate plan must be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure it still reflects your current wishes.

Call our Arizona Estate Planning team at (480)467-4325 to discuss your case today.

Contact The JacksonWhite Estate Team

Call (480) 467-4325 or fill out the form below to schedule a consultation and discuss your best legal options.

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