When a person goes through all the effort of creating a careful estate plan or last will, they likely do so because they have a specific legacy they hope to leave behind. Other times, they may worry about what certain family members or heirs will do with access to particular assets. That concern can prompt people to create last wills that favor one family member over others or that simply do not include equal inheritances for each beneficiary.
Regardless of why a testator breaks their estate into uneven inheritances, they could be setting the stage for a long-lasting conflict in the family after their death. Siblings could fight one another or join together to challenge the inheritance of a step-parent. For many heirs, it is common to assume that the deceased will split assets evenly among their children and loved ones. When that doesn’t happen, the end result could be a protracted battle in probate court.
As people age, their previous intentions regarding their estate and assets may change. Sometimes, this happens naturally as the family relationships evolve over time. In other situations, a caregiver or new spouse may exert undue influence on an aging adult. If that individual provides care, the testator may not feel like they have any choice but to adjust their will.
Similarly, if this caregiver or spouse cuts the aging adult off from other family members, they may begin to believe that no one else in the family cares for them. Regardless of whether isolation or manipulation contributed to a disappointing and uneven division of assets in an estate plan, any hint of undue influence may be sufficient grounds for other family members to challenge the will in court.
The circumstances of each estate are as unique as the person whose assets must get divided. In other words, it is very difficult to provide an overarching statement that applies to all probate cases involving unequal inheritances.
In some cases, the testator has sound and valid reasons for disinheriting one heir or leaving less to one person than others. Issues like addiction, a major falling out or simple fiscal irresponsibility could prompt someone to split their assets into uneven inheritances. Other times, the imbalance is the result of late-stage changes to a last will due to external pressure.
For those surprised and shocked by the contents of a last will, it may be possible to challenge an unequal inheritance. If there is any reason to believe that your loved one was in a state of diminished mental capacity while creating the will or experiencing undue influence that led to the uneven division of assets, those may be grounds for contesting the last will in its current form in court.