Family Fireworks: When a Last Will and Testament Becomes Contested

Even the most congenial of families can fight like wolverines when a Last Will and Testament is contested. For this to happen, they don’t have to be from Michigan.

A Last Will and Testament is a legal declaration by which a person names one or more people to manage their estate and provides for the transfer of property upon death.

Death is inevitable. But a careful choice in selecting an executor is seldom a given, especially where property and money are involved. During life, families may seem to get along fine, but the mixture of the death of a loved one, considerable property to be disbursed, and an executor who seems unfair or biased — can be a recipe for conflict. The living, prior to their passing, don’t always write out their wishes in clear and concise ways. If there is uncertainty in a family about what might occur upon the death of a patriarch or matriarch, for instance, the atmosphere following death can become an emotional war zone.

Family dynamics can disintegrate into shouting and resentment. Such family “fireworks” have little to do with the 4th of July, and can have long-lasting impact upon family relationships. Seemingly devoted family members fighting like wolverines don’t require an alumni card from the University of Michigan.
Unresolved disputes can result in a will contest. That contest can take on a life of its own, with potentially grim consequences for family harmony. Emotion often outshines logic in these contests. Where disputes occur, the litigation process can stretch out seemingly forever and become very expensive. For this reason, when preparing your Last Will, serious thought should be given to the selection of the best person to serve as one’s executor.

The best executor is one that approaches his or her duties professionally, with tact, with due regard for family dynamics, and with professional guidance from a knowledgeable attorney. If a will contest nevertheless does occur, at least it should then be grounded in a semblance of law and fair play. For this reason, it is important to choose the best person to serve. If you or someone you love is named as an executor, it is imperative that you engage a knowledgeable attorney early on in the probate process in order to help manage the proceedings, mediate expectations, lend assistance and guidance to the executor, and hopefully minimize family friction. By doing so, you just might preserve the very loving family of which the deceased was so fond.

Gene Osofsky is an East Bay elder law attorney in California. Gene Osofsky specializes in Medi-Cal planning, wills, probate, trusts, nursing home issues, special needs planning, and disability planning. To learn more about East Bay elder law lawyers, East Bay elder law attorney, Medi-Cal planning, Medi-Cal planning lawyers and The Law Offices of Osofsky & Osofsky, visit