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Preventing will contests in the face of estrangement

On Behalf of | Sep 25, 2023 | Estate Planning

While popular media depictions of families typically show people with close relationships, the unfortunate reality for many Pennsylvanians is estrangement from one or more family members. Families in which a parent or child has limited their contact with others can make estate planning particularly difficult. If a parent is estranged from one child but maintains a close relationship with another one, they might want to leave most of their estate to the child with whom they are close while leaving the estranged child a minimal amount. A lopsided distribution can lead to future litigation between the surviving family members, making it important for people to take steps to prevent this outcome.

Lopsided distributions and will contests

When a parent is in the process of estate planning and wishes to leave most of their estate to one child while leaving little to the other one, they should take careful steps to prevent a potential will contest by the disfavored child. If the child only learns about the uneven inheritances after the parent has passed away, they might file a will contest based on the belief the favored child exercised undue influence on the parent to get them to write their will in that way. Estate litigation can drag on for years and exacerbate problems between the siblings. It can also cost a significant amount of money.

Communication the key to preventing litigation

While it might be uncomfortable, the best way a parent can prevent potential estate litigation after their death is to openly and honestly communicate their wishes to all of their children, including the estranged child. Explaining why the parent has chosen to leave most of their estate to one child and little to the other can help stave off a potential will challenge. Communication might also allow the disfavored child to have a chance to make amends and plead their case.

Even if you are estranged from one child but not another, that doesn’t mean that your children have poor relationships with each other. If you don’t explain your reasoning about why you are choosing to handle the distribution of your assets in the way that you are, this lack of communication could lead to lawsuits between the siblings and permanently damage the relationship they have with one another.