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Family Conflict in Estate Planning: Lawyer to Lawyer

Part 4 of our Series

Lawyer to Lawyer

Sources of Family Conflict in Estate Planning

I often get asked to review estate plans created by another attorney.  In some cases it is because the new client has just relocated to North Carolina from another area or state.  In other cases, the client’s lawyer has retired.  In any case, if you are in the process of creating your estate plan or updating it, be sure your lawyer is considering the following issues and questions that can help uncover potential conflicts.  By knowing these issues, your lawyer can help plan ahead.

The Family Story

To do good Estate Planning you have to really dig into the “Family Story”.  Your lawyer should be talking to your Trusted Advisors”. Those could be your Accountant, Financial Advisor, Insurance Professionals or other trusted advisors who have spent time with them, been involved with them and their family.

Your lawyer should ask you and your spouse the same question when they are sitting in front of you. Even if you are both at the same table. I had a situation where the father had described his oldest son’s marriage as strong and in good shape. When I turned and asked the stepmom the same question, she said, “No, his wife will be leaving sometime in the near future”.  The father looked shocked, but after they discussed it, he realized that it was likely, as his oldest adult son was not treating his wife well.

Your lawyer should ask about the strengths and weaknesses of each child. They should also look for what the adult child’s spouse is like. (Often the attack in the Estate Plan comes from one of the adult children’s spouses, not from the adult child themselves).


As discussed before, most of the fights are over money. Some people see money as a tool and see its value as how they can invest and use it. Others see money like a magic balm to heal their psychic wounds. (It never does).

Your lawyer should ask how each of the siblings get along with each other. If you know there is a conflict that already exists, it is likely to escalate when money is involved.


Your lawyer should consider whether or not you want to do “accounting” so that each of the adult children or loved ones get the same amount. You may want to offset prior gifts to one adult child that has already received gifted money.

You may also want to “Reward the Relationship,” i.e., reward those who have been loyal and good to them, as opposed to the distant child, (“prodigal child”), who has not been in a close relationship with the parent.

Your lawyer should consider getting appraisals when reviewing your assets. They can also look at tax values of the assets, but appraisals may be necessary if you are dividing up unusual assets in different directions and if you want an accounting type division.


There are several questions your lawyer should consider in developing your Estate Plan and you should as well: 

  • Is what you want untenable?
  • Is it so unwieldy that it will be hard to operate in real life, as opposed to the theory?
  • Also, is what you are asking for unethical? If it is, then it is not going to be allowed and not going to work.
  • Are your family members or loved ones trustworthy when it comes to money? Some people are just not good with money. They are going to squander and waste it.
  • Is the adult child money hungry? Are they a mooch that mooches off of the parents as opposed to creating their own money to cover their own expenses?
  • Is the adult child manipulative with their parents?
  • Is the spouse of the adult child in control of that relationship? If so, the manipulation of the parent may come through the spouse of your adult child.

There are many considerations and questions ever estate planning lawyer will review.  This post addressed those specifically dealing with family conflict and what should be considered or asked to prevent or plan for those conflicts.

More on “Family Conflict in Estate Planning” in our next Blog.

At the Law Firm of Steven Andrew Jackson, Attorney and Counsellor at Law, we have helped hundreds of families protect themselves and their loved ones, avoid Estate Taxes and Probate Costs, and keep their Estate Plans current with the law through The Customized Protective Estate Planning Solution™.