Angela C. Artherton

Caring and Client-Focused Advocacy

Understanding intestate laws and contested wills

On Behalf of | Nov 10, 2023 | Estate Administration

When a loved one passes away, the division of their assets can sometimes lead to family conflicts. Resolving these disagreements over a contested will can be complex and emotionally challenging.

It is important to understand the main factors involved to avoid conflicts and make the transfer of assets go smoothly.

Intestate laws

Only 46% of U.S. adults have a will with instructions for handling their money and estate after their death. Intestate succession laws decide how to split a deceased person’s property among their relatives when an individual passes away without a valid will. There are five primary outcomes in intestate succession law:

  • Spousal share: The spouse inherits the entire estate
  • Descendant share: The court divides the estate equally among the descendants
  • Parental share: The parents inherit the entire estate
  • Siblings share: Surviving siblings or their descendants split the entire estate
  • Escheat: The state takes ownership of the estate

These outcomes underscore the importance of comprehensive estate planning to ensure the distribution of assets according to one’s wishes.

Contested wills

Contested wills, where family members dispute the validity or fairness of the will, can add an extra layer of complexity to an already sensitive situation. Disputes can happen when people worry about the deceased person’s mental capacity when making a will. There may also be disputes about coercion, fraud or how to interpret the will. Resolving these challenges often requires careful examination of the evidence and legal arguments to reach a fair resolution.

Mediation and alternative dispute resolution

Sometimes families choose mediation or other ways to settle estate disputes without going to court. Mediation allows all parties to discuss their concerns in a neutral setting, with the help of a trained mediator facilitating the conversation. This method often leads to solutions both sides agree on and preserves family relationships strained by legal battles.

Clear communication and documentation

Maintaining detailed records of all assets, financial transactions and communications related to estate planning can provide transparency and clarity for all involved parties. It is important to communicate openly with family members during the estate planning process to minimize the potential for misunderstandings or disputes later on.

Approaching estate disputes with empathy and transparency can help relieve tensions and ensure a more harmonious transition of assets for everyone involved.