The gathering of grieving heirs around a table to hear the reading of a will is a classic movie trope that most Pennsylvania residents will be familiar with, and these scenes often end with bickering. There are ways that heirs may be able to come to an alternative arrangement, but their options will be determined by the wording of the will.
When individuals are specifically disinherited, they may file a lawsuit to contest the terms of the will. In these situations, heirs who have inherited may not be able to simply pass some of their inheritance along even if they wish to do so. This type of lawsuit is often filed when the testator may have been influenced unduly prior to signing the will.
When no friends or family members have been specifically disinherited, heirs can enter into private agreements to change the way that assets are distributed provided that all parties concerned received at least a token inheritance. When individuals have been left nothing but have not been specifically disinherited, they may receive gifts from heirs who did inherit. These gifts do come with a tax liability, but there is an annual gift tax exclusion that allows a person to gift $14,000 per year to anyone without it counting against his or her lifetime exemption.
Attorneys with experience in the area of estate planning may seek to avoid such situations by urging their clients not to include provisions in their wills that could lead to conflicts or litigation. Family animosities can run deep, and protracted legal battles can leave heirs drained both financially and emotionally. When testators are determined to include potentially contentious provisions in their wills, attorneys may take proactive steps to protect against future lawsuits based on diminished capacity or undue influence.