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Probate Horror Story #17: Greedy In-Laws

Welcome to the 17th in a series of Probate Horror Stories, courtesy of The Brown Law Firm, LLC. Last month our topic covered the possibility of infighting over the inheritance (or exclusion) among stepparents, natural children and stepchildren. This month we will look at how greed can lead to major legal battles after a loved one passes away.

Fictional Situation: Rodney

  • Widower
  • 3 adult children, all married
  • Owns free-and-clear his home, a lake house and 2 cars
  • Created a will

Over his lifetime, Rodney had many successes. He fell in love with his high school sweetheart; they married and had 3 children. He was also a successful doctor, so he had accumulated many material possessions that he wanted to pass down to his children. After his wife passed away, he modified his will to make sure that each child received an equal share of his estate.

When Rodney’s mobility began to suffer due to illness, one of his children (Sarah) stepped in and took care of her father. While the other children helped occasionally, it was Sarah and her husband that did most of the work. When the unfortunate day arrived and Rodney passed away, his estate went into probate.

All of the children learned that the estate was to be divided equally among them. However, Sarah’s husband Rob felt that she deserved a larger portion of the estate because she had cared for her father for so many years. Even though the will stipulated an equal distribution, Rob wanted to inherit the massive home they had been living while they cared for Rodney. He also felt entitled to the car and lake house. Sarah became caught up in the greed and ultimately began fighting for a larger portion.

Sarah and Rob made a claim against the estate for the services they provided as caregivers in order to try to receive a bigger portion of the estate.  A very long and expensive legal battle ensued. This back-and-forth battle – even revenge tactics that ensued between the children – ultimately led to a major rift between Sarah and her other 2 siblings. No matter how the probate might be finalized, everyone will end up a loser when it comes to the current family dynamics.

What could Rodney have done? He seemingly did everything right by making his will fair to all of his children. However, there are ways he could have potentially helped thwart some of the infighting. He could have:

  • Informed his children in advance of his inheritance distribution so there would be no surprises (this may or may not have softened the blow).
  • Add a no contest clause stating that anyone that challenges the document will receive nothing.
  • Given away most of his estate to his children before he died.

The Denver will lawyers at The Brown Law Firm, LLC can help you draft the right documents and use the right terminology to try to reduce the amount of infighting among your beneficiaries. While no document will offer fool-proof protection against contests, you can at least feel confident that you have done everything possible to soften the blow. Call (303) 339-3750 or send us a message online to learn more about how to craft a good will in Colorado.