The Threat of a Lawyer

Posted on: Friday, February 16th, 2018

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So your parent died and one of your siblings is the executor of the estate, or trustee of the trust – and nothing is happening. Gentle prodding hasn’t worked. Months, even years have gone by – and you’re starting to wonder: What do I have to do to get this over with?

Hiring a lawyer is one option. But don’t be naïve. Once one lawyer gets involved, the usual result is that everybody lawyers up and you’re off to the races.

I talk to a lot of clients who are in this situation. Sometimes I think I work too hard to talk them out of hiring us. I tell them that I’m happy to write “the letter” which warns the delinquent fiduciary that if they don’t act, we will. And sometimes that is all it takes – but I also advise those clients that if you decide to hire us to push the process along, don’t start out with the idea that this is going to end quickly or easily. Prepare yourself for the long haul. If you rattle sabers, you better be ready to use them.

We talk about the downsides of going to court to resolve family disputes, which include the high cost of litigation, as well as the damage to family relations that could be permanent. I explain that in most situations, the delinquent fiduciary will tap into the estate to pay for their defense, and that the law will generally support that result – depending of course on the extent of wrongdoing and the judge.

The reality of course is that the behavior of the sibling “in control” is a product of family issues and personality defects. Rarely is this type of problem about the estate itself. More often it’s driven by emotions and control issues. In the end, while it’s never easy to sue a family member, sometimes the threat of a lawyer is the only way forward.

For more on this topic read this article: Starting a Lawsuit in the Real World

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