Family members dealing with the loss of a loved one may find it difficult to handle their differences if the terms of the will seem unfair in some way. Even a will that divides the estate equally among three adult children might seem inequitable to the child who quit her job to care for her mother while the others only visited occasionally. Other potential conflicts can occur when one child receives less or more than the others, or a child is disinherited or a large gift left to charity reduces the inheritance of family members. Handling those tensions can help to keep the family together as well as avoid an expensive court case.
If an unhappy family member decides to contest a will in court, the assets of the estate could be wasted and the discord in the family may never be resolved. If you are concerned about tension in the family after your death, consider discussing your estate plan with your children and other beneficiaries ahead of time. For example, an explanation that you love your children equally but feel that the youngest needs more financial help than the others might prevent hurt feelings and tension after your death. If you are uncomfortable with a face-to-face conversation, consider writing letters to each beneficiary to be read after your death.
Some families argue bitterly over who will get Mom's jewelry or her best china after her death. Most wills do not include a detailed list of personal effects, so families are left to handle this division themselves. Instead, you might invite your children, siblings or other close relatives to your home to select their favorite personal items in advance of your death. You might allow them to take the items home with them, or you could make a list designating the future owners and attach it to your will.
When disputes arise over a will, it can be helpful for the family members to attend a session with a mediator who handles probate matters. This neutral third party is trained to assist the parties to work out their differences themselves instead of submitting the matter to a judge. The mediation process is designed to be cheaper and faster than a court proceeding. It has the additional advantage of helping in most cases to ease hurt feelings and tensions among the family members. If you want to encourage mediation over disputes, you could include a provision in your will that requires mediation before filing a will dispute in court.
The person who handles the estate, called the executor or administrator, can help to ease tensions by being as sensitive as possible to the feelings that occur after the death of a loved one. If the executor recognizes the signs of a family dispute, she may offer to engage a mediator, attorney, appraiser or counselor to assist. The cost of hiring a professional is normally borne by the estate, but this expense is likely to be much lower than the cost of a will contest in court.