Inheritance disputes can increase the stress of losing a loved one on you and those close to you. Friends and family members may not agree on the correct way to handle the decedent's estate, which can creat tensions, rifts, and sometimes result in costly and time-consuming lawsuits. While you can't guarantee that everyone involved will agree on every aspect of estate administration, there are some things you can do to avoid inheritance disputes.

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Respect the Contents of the Will
First and foremost, respect the contents of the last will and testament. For one thing, it's a legally binding document, so the executor is required to follow the directives. For another, the last will outlines the last wishes of your loved one; just as you may not have always agreed with them in life, you may not like their choices now, but you should still respect their decisions. However, if the last will is not clear on a specific point of contention, you'll have to rely on the judgment of the will's executor (or, if an executor was not named, the probate court-appointed estate administrator).

Be Prepared to Compromise
In any inheritance settlement, you'll have to be prepared to compromise. Remember, you are not the only one with a relationship with the deceased, and everyone's needs are slightly different. Consider relinquishing your claim to some of the property in exchange for the parts or assets you would like, or offer to buy someone out of their share. Think carefully about why you want that piece of furniture, or whether that piece of jewelry is really worth fighting over. Sometimes, your emotions over your loved one's death can make you act in ways you ordinarily wouldn't, and this applies to your family as well. Remember, have patience, because everyone else is going through something similar.

Mediation and Arbitration
If you and your family members can't agree on a compromise, before going to court consider mediation or arbitration. It's cheaper than litigation, and can help save family relationships. A mediator sits the parties down, has them discuss their disagreements, and tries to get all sides to agree on a final solution by offering advice and suggesting compromises. Arbitration on the other hand is more binding, and may be the better option in more heated disputes where neither side wants to compromise. The impartial arbitrator listens to all sides, and determines the final settlement. Unlike with mediation where the parties are already looking to compromise and no agreement is binding, in arbitration the fighting parties agree at the outset to abide by the arbitrator's final decision because they acknowledge they cannot resolve the issue themselves.

Go to Probate Court
If arbitration and mediation haven't worked, your last option is to take the inheritance dispute to probate court. You can also go to probate court if you disagree with the way the executor handled the estate, or if you have reason to believe the will is invalid (for example, your grandmother was not of sound mind when she wrote it, or your stepfather had undue influence). You'll need a probate lawyer to help litigate the dispute at this stage. Help your loved ones avoid possible disputes by writing a clear and thorough last will.

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Get started Start Your Will Answer some questions. We’ll take care of the rest.

Get started Start Your Will Answer some questions. We’ll take care of the rest.