5 Steps to Take Before Suing a Relative Over an Estate Dispute

Unfortunately, after a parent dies, sibling disputes can sometimes erupt when it’s time to divide up the estate’s assets. Arguments can also occur between other family members who might feel entitled to the deceased’s assets. If these conflicts aren’t resolved quickly, they can result in drawn-out and expensive legal actions. 

Therefore, there are some important things you should consider before suing a family member over estate disputes that may help you avoid taking the matter unnecessarily into legal action. We have put together a basic guide to help you navigate this complicated time and to help you decide on what would be best for you and your family.

What Exactly is An Estate?

According to Wikipedia, an estate is defined as “the sum of a person’s assets – legal rights, interests and entitlements to property of any kind – less all liabilities at that time.” 

In other words, an estate often includes things like real estate, investments, and possessions. 

5 Things to Do Before Suing 

Suppose a parent did not take action before their death to decide on how their estate would be divided and now there is therefore the possibility of problems ensuring over the distribution of their assets. You may feel as if a lawsuit may be the only viable solution to decide on how the estate should be divided. However, before you take that step, ask yourself these essential questions:

  • Is legal action worth the time/money?
  • Is there a valid legal dispute?
  • Will a lawsuit lead to more family derision and conflict?
  • Have you exhausted all other options to potentially settle the dispute?

It’s not too late to preserve sibling/family harmony and to successfully keep the matter away from reaching legal action by taking these 5 steps:

Be Willing to Listen to Reason 

It’s normal to transfer your personal feelings into a dispute over an estate, especially when you are also grieving the loss of a loved one. Family estate issues can be draining and exhausting to manage on top of an already emotionally challenging time. However, you must put your emotions aside and be willing to take the opinion of a neutral third-party. 

Does it make sense to pay an attorney over $100,000 to take your case to court when the estate is worth $75,000? Is it worth paying $500,000 for a property that is worth $250,000, even with its sentimental value? Someone removed from your situation may be able to assist you in helping you decide whether a settlement or a different strategy makes more sense for you and your family’s situation. 

Explore Other Ways to Settle the Dispute 

If the dispute involves smaller sums of money, small claims court may be an option worth exploring. 

Another possibility to settle the dispute could be working with a mediator, who is a neutral and impartial person to the situation. During mediation, the mediator helps both sides communicate and try to reach a solution to their conflict that is ultimately acceptable to both of them. 

One final option is arbitration. In arbitration, an “arbitrator” hears each party’s position and arguments and looks at the evidence to make a decision about the dispute. The rules are more relaxed in arbitration since it’s not as formal as a trial. Decisions can also be “binding” or “nonbinding”  in arbitration. If a decision is binding, it means that both sides agree to accept the arbitrator’s ruling as the final decision and waive their right to a trial.

The Buy-Sell Option

Sometimes one family member might want to sell, while the other may not. One of the best ways to navigate through this is to consider a buy-sell offer. Simply put, you either buy your sibling/family member out of the assets or vice versa. 

Get an (Estimated) Cost Analysis

As we stated earlier, suing a family member can be extremely costly and time-consuming. From filing motions to gathering depositions, many hours go into just preparing for your lawsuit to go to trial. 

Your lawyer should be able to provide you with a cost analysis that estimates how much you would pay for litigation. On average, costs for litigation can range from $50,000 to $100,000. This information will assist you in deciding whether or not your dispute is worth taking to court.   

Hire An Estate Planning Attorney 

We recommend always seeking legal advice from a trusted attorney before deciding on the next steps. Since no estate disputes are alike, a law firm should approach every family’s individual situation with critical thinking, compassion and expertise. A qualified estate planning attorney will address all your available options and help navigate you to the best solution for your family and specific situation. 

Of course, the best resolution for estate disputes between family members is to prevent them altogether. Frequent communication and clear instructions on how and estate and assets should be divided can help avoid conflicts when a loved one passes. Whichever path your dispute takes, considering these 5 things ahead of time can potentially help you save time, money, as well as help preserve familial harmony.

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