Financial expert discusses the lasting effects of inheritance disputes

Published 07 Nov 2013

The outcomes of an inheritance dispute can be more than just sums of money. They can create divides in families that may last for generations and, in many cases, these wounds never fully heal.

Financial manager Michael Miller recently spoke with the Sydney Morning Herald to discuss the resentment that can sometimes form between siblings, parents and other family members in the wake of contesting wills cases. Mr Miller argued that the years of turmoil inheritance disputes may cause can be prevented with the right planning.

Virtually all serious contesting wills cases arise when there is ambiguity in the document, but the creator of the will has already passed away. Often, there will be no explanation of why a testator made the decisions he or she did. Rather, it will be a bare bones document that simply describes which parts of the estate will go where.

Mr Miller told SMH one of the best ways to clarify a will is to write an explanatory letter alongside it. In addition, the technicalities of the paperwork should be handled by experts to ensure no simple errors are made.

”Most of us aren’t very good at managing our own affairs, let alone those of a now-deceased friend or relative,” Mr Miller said.

”Remember that the period after your death is one of grieving and sometimes high tension.”

Once an executor starts to look for income tax records and capital gains tax documents, this tension can climb even higher, he added.

Tips for avoiding inheritance feuds

Testators can do their part to eliminate the chances of an inheritance feud by taking a few simple steps. Sometimes, splitting an estate evenly simply to “be fair” isn’t the best way to go. If it’s obvious that one child is much closer to the testator than another, this can easily be challenged in court.

Some people think the details of a will should be kept secret, however discussing plans openly with family members is one of the best ways to avoid confusion. Being open and transparent with everyone can go a long way.

However, there will always be instances in which wills are not fully understood. In these situations, it’s best to get in touch with contesting wills lawyers, who can help sort the matter quickly and effectively.

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