Probate and Estate Settlement Disputes

The Three Main Causes of Conflict in an Estate Settlement

And What to do About Them

FROM THE BEST SELLING BOOK:"THE SETTLEMENT GAME" - How to Settle an Estate Peacefully and Fairly

By Angie Epting Morris

As an attorney, my father believed that most people could solve their own “relationship” problems during an estate settlement by first listening to each other, then communicating effectively and finally by practicing “the golden rule”. Here is some of his “Practical Advice for a Trying Time”. This is information that is vital to “Keeping the Peace” in a family at this inevitable time of life.

Throughout The Settlement Game: How to Settle an Estate Peacefully and Fairly, many possible sources of conflict are outlined and discussed. Among these, three sources stand out as the main causes of conflict during the division process of an estate settlement. Here is a brief summary of the three, and an overview of what to do about them in order to avoid such conflict.

Interference from spouses or children of heirs, not the heirs themselves. (My father used to say that 75% of these problems could be avoided if ONLY the immediate heirs were involved – all others should stay out of the division process.)

This issue comes up most often when talking with people who have been through conflict in their family during the division process in an estate settlement. Almost always there is reference to the input from a family member ‘once removed’ – not the immediate heirs. These others (spouses, grandchildren, etc.) do not have the same emotional connection as the immediate heirs. In most cases I believe this is unintentionally done. However, when spouses or children have items they want and they make such wishes known or make demands, they often create situations that eventually develop into conflicts.

How to avoid conflict from such:

Rule # 1: Only immediate heirs or beneficiaries should be involved in the division of personal property in the settlement of the estate . All outside influences, such as spouses, children of heirs, in-laws and grandchildren should NOT participate, especially at the beginning of this process.

Early removal of items from a home or estate, without the overall consent and approval of all other heirs or beneficiaries. Once in a while I will hear about family members who simply go into a home and take what they want after a death but before the “official” division of property. This is often done with justification based on various reasons from the past. However, in a less than honorable way, some may attempt to remove items before others notice that they are gone. Once again, often such removal of things occurs from a justified position . . . “ it really belonged to them, but was loaned to the parent.” How to avoid conflict from such:

Rule # 2: Do not remove anything from the home prior to the division process. Anything that justifiably should belong to any of the heirs will become theirs if the logical process is followed and due consideration is given to the feelings of the other heirs. (In The Settlement Game: How to Settle an Estate Peacefully and Fairly, there is a sensible method fully outlined which is designed to handle these items. It is the first area of concern in going through the property division of the estate settlement process.)

Personality Difference is a primary cause of conflict in an estate settlement. Without an understanding of these differences, the process of keeping peace or avoiding conflict will be more difficult.

Over the years I have often been asked what I believe causes conflicts more than anything else. After listening to hundreds of stories, I am now convinced that most people believe that others see the world the same way they do. (Trust me – they DON’T!!) Therefore, a mentality develops about what is right or wrong. However, because we all have different personalities, we all have different ways of approaching and handling things – including the division of property in an estate settlement. How to avoid such conflict:

Rule # 3 - Gain an understanding of the personality styles of the other heirs involved in the estate settlement . It is important to understand what the basic traits are of each person involved, and the best way to communicate with them. By doing this, many conflicts may be avoided that would otherwise develop due to misunderstandings with the other heirs involved. (The basic personality styles and tips on how to better communicate with each are described more completely in The Settlement Game.)

NOTE: By visiting, you will find a link in the section on Personality Styles that will take you to a quick and simple assessment to determine anyone’s basic personality style (fun and easy.) Included in The Settlement Game Organization Kit, there is an excellent book about this which I highly recommend, written by Dr. Robert Rohm called: Positive Personality Profiles. It gives a more in depth study on personality styles and the many combinations. Furthermore, it teaches one personality style how to effectively communicate with another personality style, Among any group of siblings, there are usually several different personality styles. Please note that this does not categorize; it simply helps in understanding others - especially “kin”.

Most conflicts among people arise from misunderstandings rooted in miscommunication. The same is true of conflicts that develop in the process of settling an estate. Therefore, anything that can be done to reduce the conditions for developing conflict at such an emotional time of life should be carefully considered. This book addresses all of the things that need to be said, yet nobody has to do the talking - - the book does it for you. If any of the ‘heirs’ tried to say these things – it is likely that controversy would develop, or at the very least, resistance – largely due to personality differences and the way others would “hear” what was being said. Therefore, chances for keeping the peace in a family can be much improved by putting the information in this important little book to work for you. See the information below for ordering instructions.

Soft-cover book $14.95; eBook $19.97; Audio Book $24.97.

Go To: Understanding Your Fiduciary Duties
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