Feuding Beneficiaries: Families Behaving Badly

Whether you are creating your own estate plan or you anticipate one day being the beneficiary of an estate, you probably believe that your family is one of those tight knit families that would never ever fight over a loved one’s personal property or finances. Estate administration is one of those situations where you should never say never. There is just something about the stress of losing a loved one and having to divvy up their assets that can bring up old resentments and divide even the closest family members. The situation can become even more antagonistic if it involves divorce, a blended family, or an unmarried couple because the family relationship and dynamics are already significantly more complicated.

Because of this, estate administration is equal parts legal and personal, with beneficiaries sometimes resorting to mounting challenges by using material assets to alleviate emotional wounds. It is often too difficult for people to separate the legal process of administering the estate from their personal feelings which results in conflict and tension between the beneficiaries. You may be wondering, how so?

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In the days after a person dies, some family members may decide to take matters into their own hands. These individuals may have a key to the home and decide they are going to take the items they want without running it past the other beneficiaries first. Before the will is even probated, furniture, jewelry, artwork and other items may suddenly disappear. Eventually, when the other beneficiaries realize that the items are missing an all-out family feud erupts. You would probably be surprised at how often the police are called out over beneficiary disputes that become heated and confrontational.

Not surprisingly, dividing up personal property among family members is often more acrimonious than dividing up the financial assets because there are usually sentimental attachments associated with an individual’s personal possessions. For example, if there are four heirs and a bank account worth $10,000, it’s easy to divide it with each person receiving $2,500. But how do you divide a diamond ring or antique teapot four ways especially if there are special memories attached to the item? Simply put, you can’t.

Unfortunately, some families wind up incurring large legal expenses over non-titled items that have more sentimental importance than monetary value. Mediation is a much more cost effective way to resolve these types of disputes. The best outcome is when beneficiaries can come to some sort of agreement on their own without intervention. However, where informal agreements cannot be reached, the dispute may need to be resolved by a court but litigation over beneficiary disputes can become expensive fast. And using the assets to pay for litigation usually only adds salt to the wound as beneficiaries see their inheritance being “thrown away.”

So, how can beneficiary feuds be avoided? The most important thing is to have a detailed estate plan in place. Discuss with family members what items they may want before your passing and leave a list of tangible personal property to be incorporated with your Will. Financial accounts and investments, life insurance, etc. should have designated beneficiaries attached so that the asset passes directly to the intended beneficiary upon your passing. Real property can be transferred immediately upon your passing by a transfer on death deed. On the flip side of the coin, if you anticipate being a beneficiary don’t wait until the family member passes. Be proactive in encouraging discussion among family especially when it comes to personal property with sentimental value.

Ask Zeek and Kaya: Is Snow Really White?

Hook Law Center: What Color is White Snow?

Zeek and Kaya: As Alaskan Malamutes we absolutely love the snow. So imagine how thrilled we were that it snowed recently! Naturally, we know lots of interesting facts about snow and something many people do not realize is that snow is not actually white! Snow, like the ice particles it’s made up of, is actually colorless. It’s translucent, which means that light does not pass through it easily, but is rather reflected. It’s the light reflected off a snowflake’s faceted surface that creates its white appearance. Cool, right?!

But why white? The reason we see objects as colors is because some wavelengths of light are absorbed while others are reflected. The object takes on whatever color light is reflected. For example, the sky is blue because the blue wavelengths are reflected while the other colors are absorbed. Since snow is made up of so many tiny surfaces, the light that hits it is scattered in many directions and will actually bounce around from one surface to the next as it’s reflected. This means no wavelength is absorbed or reflected with any consistency, so the white light bounces back as the color white.

Deep snow often appears blue. This is because layers of snow can create a filter for the light, causing more red light to be absorbed than blue light. The result is that deeper snow appears blue — think about how your snowy footprints compare to the surrounding landscape. Snow can even sometimes appear pink! Snow in high alpine areas and the coastal Polar Regions contains cryophilic fresh-water algae that have a red pigment that tints the surrounding snow. No matter what color the snow appears there is absolutely nothing better than doing zoomies in that freshly fallen “white” powder.

P.S. Don’t eat the yellow snow!

Posted in Senior Law News