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Stop Inheritance Feuds Before They Start


By Sam A. Moak


The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstances.

Family members routinely fight over cash, stocks and other large assets after a relative dies. But some of the most bitter fights are over trinkets. More than half of lawsuits over inheritances involve items worth less than 10 percent of a person’s estate, according to an article on dailyfinance.com. That’s because they have emotional not financial value. One family fought over their mother’s passport, even though it had no financial worth.

 To avoid such fights, conversations should be started early. Either the older or the younger generation may initiate this talk, but the idea is to get an idea of who wants what. To assist in this you should make an inventory of your possessions to discuss with your attorney. Share the list with family members.

 It is also a good idea to have your property appraised. You can use the local appraisal district’s valuation for real estate, but understand it may not be accurate. Personal property items, other than automobiles, may be difficult to assign values to, so seek help. If there is a great disparity in value of items, then you might consider selling them. Cash is always easier to divide among heirs.

You know your family better than anyone else. If you know they do not see eye to eye, do not rely on them being able to work together to divide assets. You will have to divide them or give your executor the ability to do so. However, please make every effort not to burden your executor with refereeing family disputes.

You might consider including a list of personal property in your Will. However, be aware your Will becomes a public record and the whole world will be able to see the list. Talk to your attorney about alternatives to listing items in your Will.

The best way to avoid a fight or conflict is through careful planning, done way ahead of time. Do not put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today. Seek the guidance and advice of an attorney who handles estate planning. There is a good chance he or she will have experience with “sticky” matters and how to best avoid them.

Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.