Problems with Siblings When Settling an Estate
It’s not uncommon for siblings to argue over assets and property following the death of a parent. You can bring legal actions against siblings during probate or trust asset distributions. Call (949) 706-7300 to speak to Hess-Verdon, California’s leading estate lawyer.
Problems with Siblings Settling Estates
Many potential problems can arise when an estate is divided among siblings in California. The most common issues that arise during probate include:
- A sibling has stolen money or assets from the inheritance.
- One sibling is receiving more than the other siblings.
- One sibling takes advantage of another sibling’s trust, power of attorney, or guardianship.
- One sibling cannot make decisions about their inheritance.
When these issues arise, it can be problematic for all parties involved. The person who has been wronged generally wants justice and restitution from the other party. In many cases, you can always find a solution without court intervention. However, there are some situations when legal action may be necessary when the dispute cannot be resolved through negotiation with your sibling.
What are Your Rights?
- Heirs have a right to see the will and other estate documents.
- Heirs have a right to require the executor must keep track of all assets, debts, and taxes paid during probate.
- You can contest a will. If you think your sibling’s actions in managing the estate are unethical, you as an heir may have a case against them.
- In the absence of a will, legally adopted children can inherit the same as natural children, provided they were legally adopted before the decedent’s death.
- If a sibling receives an unfair share of an estate, they may take legal action and sue their other siblings.
- Anyone can sue at any time for any reason. However, if you want to win in court, you’ll need to provide evidence supporting your claim.
How to protect your share of inheritance from siblings
If you are concerned about one or more of your siblings taking advantage of your parents or trying to control their finances, it’s essential to take action as soon as possible. The earlier you act, the more likely you will be able to prevent fraud or financial abuse from happening or from continuing.
Talk to other siblings about your concerns.
People’s biggest mistake is not sharing their concerns with the other heirs. Heirs often wait too long to talk to each other. Then they become angry and less trusting when they finally have that conversation. That makes it harder to resolve any issues.
Determine what’s important and what’s negotiable
For example, if you have a sibling who always played the piano or loved art, you might be willing to let them keep those items rather than having everything divided equally among siblings.
Consider using an arbitrator or mediator before a court.
Many family members will compromise if they sit down and talk it out with someone objective. If you’re expecting a conflict, consider hiring a mediator before any potential legal battles begin.
Are you considering legal actions against siblings during probate?
Whether you’re in the middle of an ongoing dispute with a sibling who has been appointed as trustee or executor, or you have just found out that your parent has passed away and that they left everything to one sibling, it’s important to take action quickly. As soon as you realize there is a problem with how the estate is being managed, it’s time to talk to an experienced probate attorney who can help you understand your options and take appropriate steps to address the situation.
California inheritance law provides protections against siblings who exhibit selfish and greedy behavior. You may be able to bring legal action against a sibling for any of the following reasons:
- Did they Forge the will?
If you have evidence that your sibling forged the will or had a role in forging it, you may have a cause for action. In California, you will need strong evidence to prove that your sibling forged the will.
- Did the Sibling Use Undue Influence?
If your sibling used undue influence to manipulate a loved one into changing their estate plan, you might have a cause of action under California inheritance law. The critical question is whether there was an opportunity for undue influence and whether a confidential relationship existed between the deceased and your sibling.
- Did the Sibling Act Improperly as an Executor, Trustee, or Agent Under a Power of Attorney?
Suppose your sibling took advantage of their position as executor, trustee, or agent under a power of attorney. In that case, they may be held accountable for their actions under California inheritance law. You must prove that they abused their position and acted in bad faith to prevail on this claim.
- Did the Sibling Act Improperly as a Guardian or Conservator?
If you suspect that your brother or sister acted improperly while serving as guardian or conservator of your parent, you may be able to sue him/her. You would have to prove that they violated their fiduciary duties.
A fiduciary duty is an obligation to act in another person’s best interests and not in one’s own self-interest. If you can demonstrate that your brother or sister breached this duty, you may be able to sue him/her for elder abuse.
How to Sue A sibling
Find an attorney who specializes in probate or trust litigation. You will need to provide a copy of the will and trust documentation to your attorney.
At Hess-Verdon law firm, experienced probate and trust attorneys will help review your options for filing a suit.
Next, we will help you file the petition to dispute the will or trust in the appropriate court department. For this, we will work with you to prepare sufficient evidence such as:
- Proof that you are a beneficiary of the estate.
- Proof that your sibling breached his fiduciary duty as an executor or trustee.
- Proof that your sibling acted fraudulently, such as by forging a document or making false statements concerning the terms of the estate planning documents.
Taking siblings to court: What to Expect
The legal process of disputing an inheritance is relatively predictable. If you sue a sibling over an estate, here are the things you can expect to happen:
The case will be heard in a state probate court.
In California, the probate process begins when heirs file a petition with their local superior court. Once we file the petition, the judge takes control of the entire proceeding and handles all aspects of the case. You may have to go through mediation with the other heir.
After filing a petition, many courts require that both parties attempt to resolve their differences through mediation. This is a voluntary process where both parties meet with an unbiased third party, an intermediary between them. The mediator aims to help both parties agree without resorting to trial.
The judge will decide who is entitled to what
If mediation fails or is not required by local rules, your case will proceed to trial before a judge will hear and review evidence from both sides and decide how the heirs should share the inheritance.
How long your case will take
If you’re suing a sibling over an inheritance, it’s essential to understand that litigation can take months or even years. Suppose your sibling, acting as administrator or executor of an estate, has wrongfully excluded you from inheriting your property. In that case, you may be able to take legal action against that sibling and recover what is rightfully yours.
Call (949) 706-7300 to set an appointment with us.
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