It’s About Relationships

Resolving And Avoiding Disputes Between Heirs And Beneficiaries

Heirs and beneficiaries of an estate are often caught up in emotions that arise in unique ways when a loved one dies. It might be their grandparent, parent or even a more distant relative or friend. When emotions and estate property come together in a probate, it is not unusual to find that old family issues rise to the surface.

If you are the Executor (or Administrator) of an estate, you may be finding yourself in the middle of family difficulties that you never saw coming. Or maybe you were chosen because you are the “peacemaker” who can navigate family factions. You may be in the position of having to eject a sibling from your parents’ home because that sibling has lived in that home rent-free for decades and she or he is unable to accept the fact that they now have to vacate the residence so that you can sell it.

This is where my services can be invaluable, because not only am I an experienced probate and estate planning lawyer, but I am also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.* In many cases, family relationships can be preserved, and that is always my aim. But in other cases, an Executor simply needs my support as I guide them through the difficulty of utilizing the law to deal with uncooperative heirs and beneficiaries.  I have guided my clients through situations where family members needed to be skillfully handled in order to avoid unnecessary conflict, and in other cases, I have had to help clients deal with family members who were dealing with the grief process in very unfortunate ways.

A Lot Can Go Sideways Between Heirs And Beneficiaries

My experience includes:

  • Helping clients when family members are unhappy with the law or the will: Sometimes relatives have their own idea of what is “right” or what “mom wanted” when it comes to the distribution of assets. Sometimes a decedent may actually have told a surviving relative that the survivor would get more than the decedent really left them. Other times a surviving relative may have misinterpreted the decedent’s words or there is simply no estate plan and the assets are to be distributed as required by law. When a family member has a hard time accepting that they will not be getting what they were expecting, there are both emotional and legal avenues to go down. Navigating these situations is as much an art of human relations as it is a legal process.
  • Helping beneficiaries when they agree that a mistake has been made: Sometimes it really is the decedent who made the mistake, and all the heirs/beneficiaries agree. There are legal procedures for making alternative distributions in such a case – like where a decedent treated all children and stepchildren equally but left one account out of her/his estate planning documents. Under the law, the stepchildren might normally get nothing from that account, but a court can often order alternative distributions in such cases.
  • Using the law to resolve an uncooperative beneficiary’s acts: Despite my hopes otherwise, sometimes the law is the only solution to an uncooperative family member’s unfortunate choices. I have defended estates in many situations such as:
    • Proving parentage when relatives accused the sole heir of not really being her father’s daughter
    • Evicting relatives or other parties who refuse to leave the decedent’s residence
    • Defending a handwritten will from a relative who accused my client of forging the will
    • Mediated legal settlements to many decedents’ estate disputes
  • Defense of the will and contested will litigation: Having an experienced probate attorney on your side (and by your side) throughout the process means you can turn over the problem of defending the will and representing you as Executor in the event of a will contest (litigation).

Contact My Office

If you have been named the Executor of a will or are seeking to become the Administrator of an estate, it makes sense to have a good understanding of what lies ahead of you throughout the probate process. I am able to help with probates in many California counties. Call my office in Palo Alto at 650-449-6671 or contact me by email to arrange a time we can discuss your circumstances.

*Gadi Zohar no longer provides professional psychotherapy or psychological counseling.