By Angie Epting Morris
Many attorneys believe that most problems
related to dividing an estate could be handled outside of the
courtroom. Those who counsel individuals about family feuds and
personal conflicts that arise during estate settlements usually
agree that most could be solved without attorneys if people would
just listen to one another, communicate, and "Do unto others as you
would have them do unto you." However, that's easier said than
THE SETTLEMENT GAME: How to Settle an Estate Peacefully and
, identifies three main sources of conflict and offers
strategies for what to do about them to avoid a family feud.
1. Many of the problems that arise at the time of a division or
settlement of an estate are caused by interference from spouses or
children of the heirs, not the immediate heirs themselves. In any
discussion with people who have been through family conflict during
the division process, a story related to this type of interference
usually comes up. This is often because someone – not an immediate
heir –wants something. Usually there is no intent to harm
relationships, yet a seemingly innocent request from someone
closely related to one of the heirs may cause pressure that
eventually erupts into conflict.
Rule # 1 - Only immediate heirs should be involved
the division process during the settlement of the estate. All
others (spouses, children, grandchildren, in-laws and friends)
should NOT participate, especially at the start of this
2. A second major cause of conflict comes from the early removal of
items from a home (or estate) without the overall consent and
approval of all other heirs. Sometimes one heir will simply go in
ahead of time and take what he or she wants – perhaps spitefully –
or perhaps intending to remove the item before anyone notices it is
gone. However, usually this early removal is done innocently, by
someone who thinks it is acceptable or has what he or she thinks is
a good reason.
Rule # 2 – Don’t remove anything from the home or
before the official division process. Common sense may
require that valuables be removed for safe-keeping; just make sure
that all heirs are aware and agree.
3. Most experts agree that personality differences are the main
cause of conflict during the division process of an estate
settlement. Without understanding these differences, keeping the
peace and avoiding conflict will be much more difficult to
Rule # 3 – Try to gain an understanding of personality
of the other heirs involved. It is important to
understand the basic traits of each person involved, and the best
way in which to communicate with that personality style. By doing
this, many conflicts that would otherwise develop from
misunderstandings among heirs can be avoided.
Who's in Charge?
Family Rifts and Funerals
Family Reorganization After a Loss
Helping a Grieving Parent
Also by Angie Epting Morris:
Dividing Estates in Blended Families
Leaving Property to Your Children
What is an Estate Executor?
Should I List Who Gets What in a Will?
Who Needs a Will?
Angie Epting Morris is the author of THE SETTLEMENT GAME:
How to Settle an Estate Peacefully and Fairly, a
step-by-step guide addressing the age-old problem of how to divide
personal property without dividing the family. Her system is widely
used and highly recommended by attorneys and financial planners.
The book is available on her web site, as well as on