Berman & Asbel, LLP

Unequal inheritances and sibling disputes

Siblings can bicker over various issues involving their parents, including their estate plans. Probate can tie up an estate in the Pennsylvania court system, especially if there are challenges to a parent's wishes or if a parent dies without a will. Parents might make decisions about their assets that can be viewed negatively by the children, which makes clarity a matter of great importance during the estate planning process.

During life, a parent might discuss their final plans with a child who has a close relationship. Another child who feels that a sibling is exerting undue influence might try to address that concerns through legal avenues. However, a parent has a right to sign a testamentary document without revealing the contents to children. A parent has no legal responsibility to leave assets to an adult child, but inequality in a will could be contested after the parent dies. A trust is typically not affected by probate, but it could be legally challenged.

People who anticipate legal challenges can make their wishes particularly clear by including an explanation of inequality in their estate plan and discussing them in a family meeting beforehand. Another possible approach to limiting disputes is making lifetime so that funds or assets that might otherwise be in question don't need to be included in a will or trust.

An inter vivos trust might be one way to address these types of situations. Besides avoiding a lengthy and public probate process, the beneficiaries can learn of the trust's terms during the settlor's lifetime, which allows them a chance to understand the rationale behind the decisions. Estate planning attorneys will also tell their clients that these types of trusts can contain provisions that condition distributions upon the achievement of certain milestones such as age or education. This may be preferable to a will, where the inheritance is received all at once.

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