It’s an all too common story. People call us regularly wanting to sue the trustee of their parent’s estate. They want our advice on whether or not they have a good case. While we don’t provide legal advice on this blog, we can provide some background and a helpful framework for your consideration.
The Actual Costs of Litigation
Some of the most gut wrenching cases that we have seen, in which beneficiaries are in disagreement concerning the execution of planning documents, involve relatively small estates. You may have a really great case, with the potential to prevail in litigation, but at what cost, and to what benefit? This number obviously varies, but we have seen inheritance litigation cases that cost the family between $75,000-$100,000. After the litigation, it comes time to divide the estate between the different beneficiaries, and sometimes there is literally nothing left.
The Non-Monetary Costs of Litigation
Consider the additional costs of litigation, and the toll that they can take on your life. While you may bring the case, quickly settle, and be done with it, many cases of this nature take between 6-18 months from the initial filing to the judge’s ruling. You may also believe that you can back out whenever you want to, only for the other party to counter your suit with their own. This will force you to see both lawsuits through. Even if you win, you may have to spend many sleepless nights under the heavy weight of broken relationships, feelings of betrayal, and stress that comes along with inheritance litigation against a sibling.
Inheritance Litigation on Principle
If you are hoping to bring a suit against your sibling as a matter of principle, we want you to know that it is a very difficult situation to put yourself in. If you are unconcerned about the financial cost, but are suing for vindication and to prove that you are 100% right and the other party is 100% wrong, we would recommend that you reconsider. It has been said by judges and mediators that you know it has been a successful suit or settlement if both parties are equally dissatisfied.
Steps To Help You Decide
There are definitely times when an inheritance lawsuit is advisable, and would absolutely be the best thing for an individual or group of beneficiaries to do. It has been our experience that this is less common, and we don’t take this kind of decision lightly.
There are a few steps we would recommend if you are considering inheritance litigation. First, we would recommend getting a minimum of two opinions from experienced estate planning litigators concerning the potential outcome of your case. If you call us, we will provide you with a very straight forward answer as to the potential in your particular situation.
Next, we would recommend that you do the math. Ask yourself what you stand to lose or gain financially from pursuing the path of litigation. As you consult with your trusted legal advisor, look at the worst case scenario and ask yourself “If the case were to end this way financially, would I still be glad I did it?”
Last, we would recommend that you look at the non-monetary costs of litigation. These can include added damage to family relationships, sleepless nights, high levels of stress, and months of uncertainty as this decision plays out in your life and the lives of your family, both immediate and extended. Sometimes the ramifications can last for decades.
Conclusion: Do Your Own Estate Planning Now
The best way to prevent your own children from contesting your will and fighting over your estate’s assets is proper estate planning now. Good estate planning isn’t cheap, (check out our podcast about the costs of estate planning) but it doesn’t even come close to the costs of litigation down the road.
To listen to our full podcast about inheritance litigation, click here.