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When Families Fight in Probate Court

In a world where elder law attorneys seem to make more money representing feuding siblings than from providing skilled preventative advice to seniors, it should come as no surprise that probate has become one of the most controversial and contentious areas of practice in recent years. Will contests, trust disputes, and adult children fighting over guardianship of an elderly parent are almost daily occurrences in some Florida probate courts. But is it all really necessary? Can it be prevented?  For the most part, yes.

Why do families fight?

The short answer is money. Rarely do people fight over principles, like whether an aging parent should be allowed to partake in religious festivities at the nursing home if those festivities are not part of her faith.  However, if she wants to give a large sum of money to a caregiver, then expect a fight.

What are the most common fights?

Typically, fights start because an elderly loved one can no longer provide for his or her own care. Here are a few common examples.

1) The widow with Alzheimer’s

In this scenario, an aging widow may have a significant estate, a nice home with value, and several children who perhaps are not on great terms. As the widow begins to deteriorate and is unable to provide for her own medical needs, one sibling becomes her agent under a healthcare power of attorney. Soon, that sibling, perhaps meaning well, begins using the power of attorney to hire caregivers and pay excessive fees for housekeeping, lawn care, and other services, all provided by close friends. The other sibling finds out and thinks she is abusing her powers and squandering the estate. Soon a probate battle ensues.

2) The joint bank account

In this scenario, an aging parent names a child on a joint bank account before dying. Upon death, all the money goes to that one child to the exclusion of the remaining children who are entirely disinherited. A question arises as to whether the parent was mentally capable of making such a decision. Therefore, litigation ensues.

3) The second marriage will contest

Many cases are filed every year involving a second marriage. In this scenario, a couple marries later in life after having raised their own families. Perhaps they have both been widowed by a prior spouse and have children from those prior marriages. Shortly after remarrying, the wife passes away, leaving everything to her new husband. Yet, her children receive nothing. This means the pension their father worked to earn now goes to the second husband and his children. It may also mean the loss of treasured heirlooms and priceless mementos that cannot be replaced. One can quickly see how this could lead to endless litigation.

The solution is as simple as a conversation

With three offices conveniently located throughout the Villages, the Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group retains trusted elder law attorneys who regularly advise seniors and help put things in perspective for those who need long-term advice. Whether you want to protect your assets in the event of nursing home admission or simply want to make sure your children receive their inheritance when you are gone, the best way to do it is through sound and prudent estate planning. Make the call today.

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