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Common Estate Disputes

Posted by Aubrey Carew Sizer | Jul 11, 2022

Estate planning can help people ensure that their heirs and beneficiaries are taken care of after they pass away and ensure that minor children or those unable to care for themselves receive support. Wills, living wills, and trusts are all common estate planning documents. When someone works with an estate planning attorney, they assume that the documents will be legally clear and correct. However, disputes can arise when family members disagree with the manner in which the deceased distributed their assets. Understanding common estate disputes can help you with your own estate planning or can help you protect your interests should a dispute arise. As an experienced Virginia estate planning firm, The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC, can help. Call (571) 403-2619 today to discuss your options.

What are Common Estate Disputes?

Many common causes of estate disputes that lead to litigation and contention may be the result of poor planning or failure to adjust estate documents after the individual experienced a significant life change. Taking steps to avoid certain situations and remembering to update legal documents may help reduce conflict between loved ones after someone passes away.

Second Marriages

Any change in marital status, including divorce and subsequent marriages, typically requires an update in the estate plan. Understandably, many people do not wish their former spouse to benefit after they die, or they may wish to provide for the new spouse and any children of that union. However, some people may choose to ensure that a former spouse is provided for; every relationship is different.

Children from different marriages may also feel slighted or upset at the terms of a parent's will or trust. These hurt feelings or feeling as though one group of siblings has priority over another when it comes to asset distribution can result in litigation. Some people may wish to have an honest conversation with their children about how they plan to provide for them after their death.

Suspicion of the Estate Executor

The role of an estate executor, or executor of a will, plays a vital role in the distribution of the assets and settling of the deceased's estate. In fact, the executor is the representative of the estate and, as such, is tasked with protecting the estate's interests. This includes selling assets to settle the debts of the deceased and ensuring that all interested parties are notified of any assets bequeathed to them. It also includes ensuring that all debts are paid and that all taxes are paid to the Internal Revenue Service.

However, heirs may disapprove of the manner in which the executor is performing their duties. Disagreements between the beneficiaries and the executor may lead to litigation or a petition to replace the executor. There may be occasions when the executor is, in fact, not acting in good faith. If an estate administrator engages in fraud or deceitful actions, or if they make fiscally irresponsible or reckless decisions, then the heirs may have a case to pursue a lawsuit against the executor.

Indications of Undue Influence or Coercion of the Deceased

A will, trust, or other estate planning document is considered valid if the individual created the asset allocation of their own free will. Signs of excess influence or intimidation may be grounds for a person's heirs to challenge the validity of the document. For example, if a will or trust is suddenly changed, without explanation or justification, then those affected may suspect fraud or trickery on the part of the person now benefiting from the changes. An estate planning attorney at The Law Office of Aubrey Sizer PLLC may be able to help people who have been affected by undue influence over their loved ones.

Disputes Over Property Allocation

In some cases, children or family members may assume that they are to receive certain pieces of property or a certain amount of money. When they do not, or if they feel as though a sibling or other family member received items or assets intended for themselves, disputes can arise. In other cases, individuals may feel as though assets were unfairly distributed or unequally shared by all of those entitled to the assets. One child, for example, may receive a greater sum of money than another child or may be given ownership of a family home.

Can Mediation Help Resolve Estate Disputes?

Estate disputes can quickly turn contentious and legally challenging. Litigation over an estate may end up costing families far more than they intended, with legal fees adding up. Mediation may help resolve common estate disputes without going to court. However, should mediation happen, each party may wish to contact an estate planning lawyer to help protect their interests and negotiate on their behalf.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a method of dispute resolution that occurs outside of court. The sessions are facilitated by a trained mediator (many mediators are retired probate judges) who acts as an impartial guide for parties to reach an acceptable agreement. Although a mediator does not have any authority to make decisions regarding the outcome of the dispute, they are able to help each party look more closely at the situation and explore possible solutions.

Many estate disputes involve familial and other long-term relationships, which may have contentious undertones or long-standing resentment. These disputes can be emotional, which can cloud the judgment of the participants. Mediation may not just settle the estate dispute, but many also offer families an opportunity to mend relationships or move on from past disagreements.

Do I Need an Estate Attorney for Mediation?

Although mediation is not the same as a lawsuit, the process can still be complicated. Having a professional experienced in estate and probate law can help people understand the process, the terms of the documents and protect their interests. The mediator will control the negotiations but does not represent a particular party, nor are they to favor one party over another. Estate attorneys can help individuals during an emotional medication by being a rational advocate in the negotiation process.

What Happens if Mediation Does Not Work?

If parties involved in an estate dispute cannot come to an agreement in mediation, then one party may file a lawsuit against the other party or parties. This means a court appearance and a judge will determine the outcome of the dispute, which all parties are legally bound to comply with. If you need legal representation for common estate planning disputes, contact The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC at (571) 403-2619.

About the Author

Aubrey Carew Sizer

Aubrey Carew Sizer, Esquire, is the Principal Attorney of The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC, a Northern Virginia law firm providing representation for Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, Guardianship and Conservatorship, Special Needs Planning for the Disabled, and Probate, Estate and Trust Administration.


The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC provides customized and affordable estate planning (including wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, and advance medical directives); elder law services (including long-term care planning, special needs planning for the disabled, and guardianships and conservatorships); probate, estate and trust administration (including advising executors and administrators of estates about post-mortem planning and the local probate process in Virginia), as well as general aging and disability advice in Northern Virginia, including but not limited to Arlington, Alexandria, Ashburn, Bristow, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Gainesville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Haymarket, Herndon, Leesburg, Manassas, Manassas Park, Reston, Springfield, Sterling, and throughout Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax counties.