Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When Wills Divide Families


Although Kate’s father died when she was in college, she stayed very close to his side of the family.  Yet this all changed when Kate learned that her grandmother’s estate had been split among her aunts with nothing left to her or her siblings.  Confused, Kate requested a copy of the will and discovered that her grandmother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, signed a will disinheriting her son’s children a week before she passed away. 

Kate began a prolonged legal battle against her family, which resulted in a financial settlement.  Kate’s case raises many issues, including the capacity needed to create a will and the bar to overturn a will.  “The capacity needed to make a will is very low, lower than to enter into a legal contract.  You could have someone who had dementia, but if they had moments of lucidity they could execute a fully valid will.” 

Disinheriting family members is a drastic step, one that many countries do not even permit.  “Whether it’s sharia in Muslim countries or the Napoleonic Code throughout Europe and parts of Latin America, what you give to your heirs is tightly prescribed.  Anglo-Saxon countries are the exception to this rule.” 

Kate said she was most bothered by the process itself, “It’s really unfortunate that this could take place at all.  There was no conversation with my grandmother about this.  There was no letter that she signed saying that this was what she wanted.  I wish we had asked my aunts more questions.”

See Paul Sullivan, When a Will Divides an Estate, and Also Divides a Family, The New York Times, June 20, 2014.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


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