When a Family Feud Needs an Umpire

A family in conflict is not a pretty sight. Before you know it, a family can begin litigation over the family jewels, the family dog, or most often control of decision about mom or over assets. It can get expensive very quickly. Litigation squanders family resources, but sometimes it is inevitable. While it’s not what mom and dad would want, sometimes a neutral trustee or Conservator is necessary.

We see it like a five-way divorce when families are in estate litigation because once litigation proceeds, many family members stop talking to each other. Even so, a neutral trustee can help bring closure and peace to the family and elder.

A group of black and white pictures are in the shape of a square.

The conflict usually boils down to control of assets or decisions: personal, sentimental, collectibles, valuables, real property, a business, or the decision to place mom into a memory care facility.  When a parent decides, “all the children are to be co-trustees because then they will have to get along”, it can spell disaster. It may cause them to suffer the stressful effects of no decisions when they need help the most, as one case involving four co-trustees.

Dad had died and named all four kids as co-trustee. Mom had dementia. On the weekend of dad’s funeral, the adults in the room began to bicker about how to deal with Mom’s dementia.  After one started a Conservator case, the four co-trustees ended up at mediation. When it gets ugly, the courts will often require, or the parties will agree to, a 3rd party, independent neutral to handle the trust. 

A family that seeks assistance from a skilled group moderator can sometimes get to decisions without the expense of court, thereby saving assets for Mom and the remainder beneficiaries. Either way, when family conflict boils over, the elder feels the heat and stress. If this is your family, seek an umpire.

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Loren Emmanuel