The estate planning process involves making a lot of thoughtful decisions, especially when there are multiple children in blended families who are to inherit. Unfortunately, even the best laid plans result in post-death disputes. From our experience, this is likely the result of unequal distributions or poor manage of trust assets by a trustee. Other times friction arises because the Trustee is slow to act in administering the trust.
There are a variety of reasons why a parent may leave unequal distribution to one sibling over another. While it is generally within the right of a person to leave their assets to whomever they wish as long as the estate plan created was as a result of the decedent’s free will.
An appointed trustee should take the following steps to minimize the chances of a costly litigation:
Hire a competent attorney
whose practice focuses on trust and estate administration. When a trustee first steps into the position of overseeing and administrating a trust, he or she must immediately provide notifications to the beneficiaries as required by Probate Code Section 16061.7. This is important not only to provide potential beneficiaries information about the administration of the trust, but it also protects the Trustee by starting the clock on the short amount of time potential claimants have to contest the trust. Once the time expires on the statutory deadline expires, Trustees can proceed to administer and distribute assets knowing the Court will acknowledge the terms of the trust as set forth in the document.
Engage in discussions and possibly attend an early mediation.
One of the quickest and least expensive ways to resolve a trust contest is to attend early mediation. Mediation is a non-binding process where a third party, typically a retired judge, is hired by all parties to help evaluate the dispute and encourage the parties to settle in lieu of a costly, stressful, and time consuming lawsuit. When deciding on a mediator, it is important for the mediator to have knowledge, experience, and reputation in the area of trust and probate law. Just as not all attorneys are competent to handle inheritance dispute, not all mediators are competent to help resolve such disputes. Note that mediation is a voluntary process and is non-binding unless a settlement is reached. For mediation to be successful, the parties have to be open minded to settlement. Often, inheritance disputes are filled with emotions that make it difficult to settle. Unfortunately, sometimes, the stress and cost of litigation is needed to get the parties to be open to mediation.
Consider Liquidating Assets.
Because of the emotions involved in one’s passing, it is sometimes difficult to think about selling a valuable and sentimental asset such as a family home. However, often the sale of the asset will be required because there is no practical way to split ownership of the asset. We often find the emotionally invested trustee will struggle with this decision. It is important to consider whether the Trust allows for the sale and if not; to get the consent of the other beneficiaries or provide proper notice before the sale in accordance with the Probate Code.
If you are unable to keep the will process cordial among siblings, please contact Gokal Law at 949-753-9100. Gokal Law Group is a family firm that treats our clients as if they were our own flesh and blood. We fight for our clients as we would our own children, sisters, brothers, and parents. We are our clients’ Warriors, fighting to bring them justice and right the wrongs they have endured.
Each attorney has a specific practice area for which they are tried, tested, and battle-ready. They have vast years of experience in their practice area, providing them the knowledge,
skills, and vision to fight and win. Learn more about Gokal Law Group.