When a loved one passes away, it can bring out the worst in some family members. Greed and entitlement rear their ugly heads as certain relatives try to get more than their fair share of the inheritance.
As estate planning attorneys, we have seen this scenario play out far too many times. Families that were once close can become bitterly divided over money and possessions left behind.
In this post, we want to have a thoughtful yet straightforward conversation about how to handle greedy family members after a death. We will share some of the common tactics we see and offer tips on how to move forward. We will also discuss making sure that your own estate planning documents are in order so this doesn’t happen when your time comes.
We have seen more than our fair share of “inheritance vultures.” These are relatives who essentially prey upon other family members’ grief and loss for their own financial gain.
While each situation has its nuances, there are some common plays we see family members employ to angle for more inheritance assets. Being aware of these schemes can help you spot questionable behavior right away and address it properly.
Here are some of the typical tactics they tend to use:
Some of the most cunning inheritance vultures will initially act very kind, overly helpful, and seem to take a strong interest in supporting other relatives. Don’t be fooled, though – this is often a ploy to butter up widowers, executors, etc., before making a big “ask” for money, property, or other valuables. We call this the “kindness carpet pull” scheme.
These actors can turn on the waterworks to try to elicit sympathy and make others feel guilty if they don’t comply with demands. Sob stories abound, along with the “woe is me” routine. It’s emotional manipulation purely meant to weaken resistance to giving them more.
One of the more infuriating plays in the book is making what seems like outright threats or ultimatums. “If you don’t give me that car, you will never see your grandkids again.” – be prepared for bullying attempts of this nature. It preys on fears and vulnerabilities while aggressively angling for assets.
Greedy family members might also conveniently “find” documents allegedly demonstrating the deceased person intended for certain items or funds to go to them…how convenient! Don’t take it at face value. With help from a qualified estate planning attorney, verify the legitimacy of all legal documents before moving forward with distributing assets.
Finally, if they can’t produce conflicting documentation, they may resort to contesting the wishes of the deceased via will and trust contests. They may make claims that the deceased was not mentally capable of signing them or was unduly influenced by others.
Comments like “Dad had dementia – he must not have known what he was doing” or “His new wife clearly took advantage and made him change his will” are red flags.
If this happens, stay calm and know that incompetence is very hard to prove if the documents were legally executed. Speculation alone won’t hold much weight. Our estate planning attorneys at Your Legacy Legal Care™ build in safeguards to protect you from undue influence. So, have confidence in the documents unless concrete facts prove otherwise.
Regrettably, some relatives let greed overpower decency when inheritances are involved. They pressure, manipulate, or outright threaten legal action to gain more assets.
Beyond deep hurt from their actions, you may feel overwhelmed navigating it all. Take heart – there are steps you can take to fight back, especially when backed by legal guidance.
Closely review any formal estate planning documents like wills, trusts, etc. Whatever is codified, there is what governs asset distribution. If you spot discrepancies with what greedy family members claim, point to the hard evidence in writing. However, without a will or formal estate plan, your state’s intestacy laws will determine inheritances.
Do not let empty words or vague threats rattle you. Request to see legitimate paperwork backing up their assertions. If they hem and haw without producing proof, you can reasonably stand upon the estate plan’s validity.
Lawyers who stir up inheritance disputes bank on beneficiaries giving in to intimidation. Fight back by gathering documentation and securing your own legal representation to challenge empty threats.
Even when a relative causes conflict, grieving families often still care about them. You may feel tempted to give in little by little to keep the peace.
However, going along with unreasonable demands typically enables more of the same behavior later on. Setting clear, firm boundaries protects your interests and makes expectations clear moving forward. It can also cause the other party to re-evaluate their actions.
Looking back, many people see that greedy or controlling relatives showed warning signs even before a death happened. But when someone dies, grief can make it hard to see the truth about people.
Thinking about whether you noticed any warning signs earlier can help you decide if relatives’ claims are real and how to respond. Being prepared ahead of time is helpful.
A common strategy greedy relatives use is turning people against each other. When grieving, people can be more easily manipulated.
Joining together with others named in the will gives important emotional support and a united front based on facts. Working together makes it harder for lies to spread.
Getting past money issues after a death takes courage, wisdom, and commitment. But staying on the right path helps honor your loved one the right way. With patient friends and value-based advice, you can overcome selfishness.
When beneficiaries threaten legal action against an estate, the most critical step is consulting a trust and estate litigation lawyer immediately. Contested wills and inheritance battles often come down to which party has the best legal resources and strategy.
Capable probate attorneys assist in numerous ways during times of duress, including:
While no one welcomes conflict, informed preparation can curtail much unnecessary stress when will contests loom.
As difficult as inheritance disputes can be, the best way to safeguard your assets and carry out final wishes is through proactive estate planning.
By working with an experienced Texas estate planning attorney to create a properly executed will, trusts, and beneficiary designations, you retain control over who inherits your legacy. Legally sound plans withstand scrutiny and prevent relatives from overturning bequests.
Through comprehensive planning, you also spare grieving relatives from having to battle each other or fend off money-driven inheritance ploys at their most emotionally vulnerable time. They can instead focus on healing and honoring your memory.
Schedule a consultation with Your Legacy Legal Care™ today to customize an estate plan upholding your values. From wills, trusts, and asset protection to legacy giving and contest prevention, our attorneys partner with you to put your family first well into the future.
Contact us today to plan your legacy responsibly and reduce inheritance conflict down the road.
Kimberly Hegwood is the Managing Attorney of Your Legacy Legal Care, a Houston estate planning law firm. With more than 25 years of experience practicing law in Texas, she represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including elder law, asset protection, estate planning, Medicaid crisis planning, probate, guardianship, and other estate planning practice areas.
Kimberly received her Juris Doctor from the South Texas College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of Texas.
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