5 Common Inheritance Disputes

Elderly couple in inheritance disputes

Inheritance disputes between siblings and other family members can strain family relationships and set everyone on edge. When family members can’t agree on how a loved one’s estate will be divided, it can sour everyone’s memory of their past relationship, and make it harder to move on from their grief. Here are some common inheritance disputes and how to solve them.

1. Inheritance Disputes Between Siblings Cut Out of Wills

One common inheritance dispute arises when one or more siblings get left out of a parent’s Will, accidentally or on purpose. A child can be left out of a Will because:

  • They were intentionally disinherited (though certain protections are in place for minor children)
  • The Will had not been updated since the child was born or adopted
  • The child is “fictive kin” or not actually a legal child of the deceased parent (such as step-children)

In those cases, inheritance disputes can arise between siblings whose share of the estate will decrease if the omitted child is added to the estate.

Except in the first instance, these omissions are generally mistakes. Paternity for the purpose of inheritance can be established after the parent’s death. In addition, Florida’s statute on pretermitted children provides automatic protection, with certain exceptions, for a child born or adopted after the drafting of a will.

However, if a sibling has been cut out of a Will on purpose, the sibling may have no choice but to contest the Will in Florida probate court. They will need to file a petition asking the court to invalidate the Will and proceed according to Florida’s intestate law instead.

2. Inheritance Disputes Over Surviving Spouse Claims after Divorce

Florida law says that when two people get divorced they lose any right to inherit the other’s property as a surviving spouse, or as described in their ex-spouse’s Will. Unfortunately, many Florida residents forget to update their estate planning documents after the Judgment of Divorce is entered. This can create inheritance disputes over the ex-spouse’s receipt of property that does not belong to them.

This is especially a problem with beneficiary designations on retirement and investment accounts and life insurance policies. Federal law requires financial institutions and insurance companies to pay survivor benefits and distribute financial assets according to the beneficiary designations on file at the time of the person’s death. If those designations have not been updated, there may need to be a petition filed to contest the beneficiary designation and claim the money back from the wrongfully paid spouse.

3. Sweetheart Wills Create Inheritance Disputes Between Step-Relations

Similarly, in blended families involving second marriages, the children of a person’s first marriage can face a common inheritance dispute around the share of the estate left to the second spouse. Sometimes, spouses will sign “Sweetheart Wills” or trusts, leaving all their assets to their spouse without any limitation on what happens after that second spouse dies. While the step-children of that spouse would hope their parent’s assets would come back to them after the spouse’s lifetime, in fact, the spouse has the legal right to distribute all their funds as they see fit, even if that excludes their step-children.

In addition, a surviving spouse has the right to claim an “elective share” equal to 30% of the deceased’s “elective estate,” which includes several types of assets well beyond simply those passing through probate. This means that even if the deceased’s Will left all their property to the children of their first marriage, their second wife or husband will still have a claim to many of those assets, which will need to be resolved in probate court. To prevent this, the “sweethearts” will need to have signed a premarital agreement during their lifetimes waiving their interests as a surviving spouse.

4. Family Conflict Over Inheritance of Property and Values

Even when families agree on who is entitled to a share of the estate, family conflict can still arise over the inheritance of property specifically. Often the question here is which property will go to which member of a class of heirs, for example, which child will keep the family home. Those siblings not claiming the property itself may demand that their share of the property be offset. This can raise questions about the property’s value.

This is why it is so important for personal representatives to complete a timely and accurate inventory of estate property. By working with realtors, assessors, business valuators, and other experts, the personal representative and the beneficiaries can establish objectives for the properties that make up the estate. Then it is simply a matter of math to make sure each person gets the correct share.

5. Disputes Over Last-Minute Changes to Estate Plans

Some of the most severe inheritance disputes arise over last-minute or unexpected changes to a person’s estate plan in their final years. Often, these changes raise questions of undue influence. This inheritance dispute argues that even though the Will says what it says, it doesn’t reflect the grantor’s true wishes. Instead, it is the product of fraud or wrongful behavior by the person receiving a favorable inheritance under the Will. Undue influence Will challenges are some of the most challenging inheritance disputes to win in Florida probate court, but they are often essential to protecting family members’ claims to their loved ones’ assets.

When to Involve an Inheritance Dispute Lawyer

When common inheritance disputes put a strain on family relationships, you need an experienced probate litigation attorney who can help you sort through the various probate court claims and prove your case. At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced estate and probate team can help you investigate, negotiate, and litigate probate challenges between siblings and family members. We will help you be sure your family members are provided for after a loved one’s death. Contact us here or call 352-559-9828 to get help today.