The death of a family member can be a terrible and very emotional experience.
Regardless of the age of the person who has died, their relatives can be left feeling rather raw. Given such circumstances, it is not surprising to find that sometimes emotions can get the better of people who then say or do things which they might not at less stressful moments.
That is particularly true when it comes to the process of executing a will. Myself and my colleagues have analysed hundreds of cases which our firm has handled over the last couple of years.
Even though the administration of the vast majority of estates pass off without incident, whether they involve substantial assets or not, we found an increasing number of instances in which dividing up someone's estate prompted bitter rows, often over inexpensive bequests.
We found that family members frequently feuded over who was left crockery, pets and photograph albums. In one recent case, there was even no alternative resolution except to divide up the ashes of the deceased between several surviving relatives.
It seemed not to matter how much things were worth or how long and how much it might take to resolve the argument, even though we will stress to clients that it simply doesn't make economic sense to involve lawyers because of the small inherent value of the items being rowed about.
That advice, though, is sometimes not heeded because relations are so acrimonious that the individuals involved believe a point needs to be proven to the rest of the family. The objects at the heart of the dispute become invested great sentimental and emotional - rather than financial - worth.
One of the distinctive factors which we noticed looking back over our caseload was that such disputes in part reflected the changing shape of British families and step-families - particularly those larger family groups. It seems that the greater the numbers and layers within a family, the greater the potential for difficulty.
It is, of course, distressing to see children already grieving over the death of a loved one become estranged from each other, especially when such problems can be relatively easily avoided.
Having a clearly drafted will in place, setting out who should receive what from an estate. Although they may not entirely avoid the possibility of relatives taking exception of some sort, it provides less scope for disagreement and dispute.
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