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Carrying Out Final Wishes

Dealing with disgruntled heirs

If you are handling the probate process as an estate administrator, one challenge you may encounter are disappointed beneficiaries. There can be many reasons for their disappointment, and few of them will likely be because of decisions that you make.

However, it will be to you whom they turn with their dissatisfaction, so you must be prepared should this occur. It helps to understand why beneficiaries typically are disappointed with a decedent's estate plan.

One common reason is that they did not receive the amount of money or property to which they feel entitled. Perhaps the deceased always told them that they would one day inherit a certain sum or the family home, only to later discover that the decedent never got around to making their intentions known in a will. It is understandable that they can have feelings of disappointment and even anger.

One heir may allege that another heir used coercion or had undue influence over the deceased during his or her lifetime, and could even file claims against the estate for "unjust enrichment." Should that happen, it will be necessary for the estate administrator to defend this claim, and an estate administration lawyer is usually needed for this.

Another issue one might expect from a disgruntled child or spouse is that the will was inherently unfair. Fortunately, the courts anticipated just this scenario; under the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, if a testator is found to have been unreasonable or unfair toward their child or spouse, the court can step in and alter the will. This applies even to technically valid wills. One example covered by WESA is a situation where the testator failed to sufficiently provide for the support and maintenance of any children or the decedent's spouse.

These are but a few of the many potential difficulties an estate administrator may encounter during the probate of an estate. Seeking legal guidance and advice is prudent to avoid liability issues affecting the estate administrator.

Source: The Canadian Bar Association, "The Disappointed Beneficiary," accessed Aug. 11, 2016

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