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Carrying Out Final Wishes

Estate administration headache number 1: Battling heirs

Even professional estate administrators and lawyers dislike handling estates where there are multiple contentious heirs working at cross-purposes with one another. Sometimes dissatisfied heirs try to undermine the probate process by selling off some of the estate's holdings, but more often than not, the in-fighting is demoralizing and creates chaos.

Siblings dredge up decades-old grudges and revert to their childhood roles, forming alliances and tearing apart their extended families' once-close ties.

Can an estate administrator manage to avoid these internecine battles?

Sometimes they may be able to hold some negativity at bay by staying in close contact with all heirs and never appearing to favor one heir (or faction) over the others. This may mean having several separate consultations with the heirs when making sure the decedent's property is accurately appraised and valued.

Battling heirs can blow through as much as 70 per cent of their inherited wealth on costly litigation over the distribution of the assets, one research group in the United States determined. Sometimes it isn't even about the money; vast sums can be paid out to lawyers to fight over relatively worthless sentimental items that somehow have become larger than life to the heirs.

Understanding that fair doesn't mean equal with estate property is half the battle. Determine what "fair" means to the heirs to make sure all are on the same page. If one sibling has physical or other disabilities, a parent might structure his or her share of the estate differently to ensure there will be money for the sibling's long-term care. In turn, the parent might bequeath a cherished vacation home to another sibling.

If a parent constantly was helping one adult child out of financial scrapes during the parent's lifetime, Mom or Dad might have factored the sums they doled out over time into the final disposition of the estate. That could mean a significantly smaller chunk of change, or perhaps being left out entirely of smaller estates.

If the situation degenerates fast into resentment and angry scenes, the estate administrator might choose to seek out an estate lawyer to act as a buffer between the heirs.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "When Heirs Collide," Liz Moyer, accessed Sep. 02, 2016

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