Family First: The necessary role of the estate planning attorney in sibling squabbles

This blog post is the fourth in a series of stories about how I help my clients protect their family members and assets through my services as an estate planning attorney. If you spot any similarities between these experiences and your own, please know that you can always call on me for assistance.

In Estate Planning, families are at the center of everything. But when a family member’s better judgment is clouded by vices – specifically drug or alcohol addiction – the task of managing an estate can become fraught with conflict.  

Avoiding conflict is one of the main goals of looking ahead and involving a lawyer in your planning process. But if conflict does rear its ugly head, having the right legal professional in your corner can make all the difference.

Litigation for Family Succession

When ignoring the authority of the designated succession representative occurs

This was the case with my client, Natalie (name changed for the purposes of this blog). Both of Natalie’s parents had died just a few years apart. They had planned well – the family home was left to Natalie, who was also the executrix of her parents’ succession. Other property was left to Natalie’s brother. 

It became clear that before their father passed, Natalie’s brother had secretly sold items included in the succession to support his addiction. Some of the succession’s movable property was not accounted for. The brother’s actions were not only disappointing – they were also unauthorized. 

It’s true that family discord can sometimes be avoided if legal counsel is proactive; working to engage, inform, and earn the trust of each heir. However, sometimes due to addiction, estrangement, and alienation, there are no opportunities to work things out amicably.

In these cases, litigation is the hammer that is needed to enforce the law and wishes of the deceased.

Natalie’s brother’s addiction resulted in anger issues and controlling, irrational behavior. As he took charge of selling succession property outside of the court’s authority, he also demanded concessions that were well outside the scope of his parent’s wishes. 

Ultimately, he became extremely difficult to deal with.

  • Naming an executor, or a person you trust, in the Will to manage your estate after you are gone can avoid litigation regarding who is best suited to serve as administrator of a succession. You can also name an alternative executor for more protection.
  • “Independent” executorship can streamline the succession process and avoid potential disputes among family members and/or other who will inherit your assets. An independent executor is an executor who administers the testator’s estate with minimal supervision by the probate court.
  • Retaining a competent and reputable succession attorney can ensure that the Last Will and Testament is in proper form so it cannot be invalidated.
  • Using unambiguous and clear language in your last Will and Testament can avoid problems regarding interpretation of what was meant by the person who executed the Will.

Fighting for your succession rights in court

We went to court to fight aggressively for Natalie’s property rights and managerial authority. Protecting Natalie’s legal rights and safety was the right thing to do in the face of her brother’s irrational and intimidating behavior. Drafting pleadings for the court to hold Natalie’s brother in contempt became necessary in this case.

As an attorney and staunch advocate for my clients, when I am called upon to stand up to bullies, it’s best to be firm and refuse to back down early in the process. This ensures that the kinder, gentler, and weaker heir has his or her rights asserted and succession-related fiduciary duties re-instated. 

In this case, Natalie wanted so much to honor her parents’ wishes, and she needed to know that she had an aggressive attorney to step in and do what had to be done.  

Successions can become much more than a mere execution of the law. Sometimes it’s about knowing when to stand firm and become a warrior. Sometimes it includes becoming a zealous advocate for a family member and their rights and responsibilities. Sometimes court battles are the only way to achieve justice. And sometimes… it’s the only way to honor a parent’s last wishes.

Michael Calogero was kind, caring, and compassionate as he helped me deal with the estate of my parents.

He was available late evenings and weekends to reassure me, and he even checked on me a few times after our business was completed. I highly recommend Mr. Calogero.”
– Client Testimonial

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