No family is perfect. And while all litigation is emotional, our experience is that almost all trust and estate litigation is driven by underlying emotional disputes among family members. And death, like divorce, can open the floodgates of those disputes. Long simmering sibling rivalries come to a boil. Suppressed anger towards step-parents or step-children bursts forth. Children who felt minimized by their parents assert themselves.
If these disputes are recognized during lifetime, they can be addressed in the estate plan. Decisions such as who to name as fiduciary or how to structure a gift to a particular family member can minimize the opportunities for those disputes to arise.
But sometimes those disputes only come to light after death, causing the estate administration to spin out of control and result in litigation. And some beneficiaries use that litigation as their grieving process. Ironically, those emotions also act as a roadblock to reaching a rational resolution of the legal disputes.
We have been able to resolve some disputes by recognizing and addressing these emotional issues, either through estate planning or early in the litigation process, and helping our clients minimize the effects of these family issues. But it is also true that some disputes cannot be avoided or resolved, no matter how much planning is done or how rational the other parties are, and the only option is to pursue litigation to the end. The key is being able to tell the difference.