Q. My father passed last June. He has a 2015 U.S. will that deals with his New Jersey condo and a bank account. Then there’s a 2010 Spanish will that deals with two condos and a bank account in Spain. There are three siblings, but one of them thinks he was shortchanged in the will because of the value of the properties. We think he will want to fight it out.
A. Fights over wills can get ugly.
We’re going to presume the U.S. will created in 2015 did not revoke the Spain will created in 2010.
In your case, the U.S. and Spain wills contain specific bequests of real property.
“These properties pass to each of the beneficiaries identified as inheriting each property regardless of their monetary values,” said Shirley Whitenack, an estate planning attorney with Schenck, Price, Smith & King in Florham Park. “Under New Jersey law, there is no requirement that the three beneficiaries of the estate receive an equal amount.”
Had your father intended that each child receive an equal distribution, the wills presumably would have contained clauses requiring the executor to ensure that each child received an equal distribution, she said.
Whitenack said the executor has a duty to carry out the terms of the wills.
“Although the beneficiaries can all consent to changing the distribution amounts to each beneficiary, there is no requirement that they do so,” she said. “Unfortunately, a beneficiary can hold up the distribution of estate assets by refusing to accept the distribution in a timely manner and attorneys fees may be incurred in trying to negotiate a settlement or by seeking advice and direction of a court.”
Under those circumstances, the beneficiaries must consider the costs of attorneys fees in deciding whether to stick to their guns or achieve a settlement, she said.
One other option?
“Mediation is an added expense but may be helpful to resolve the matter without litigation,” she said.
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