It happens more often than you might think.
An elderly family member passes away, and the reading of the will creates plenty of frustration, anger and hurt when relatives feel they were left out.
“People understandably are emotional,” Pushor Mitchell lawyer Angela Price-Stephens says. “You’ve just lost a loved one, and when the will does not match expectations it can hit a person when they are already low. When the will turns out to be a nasty surprise it can cause a family member to question everything that’s gone on in their life; especially as people may remember the same event or situation in a variety of ways.”
Price-Stephens has been litigating estate matters for more than two decades. She is new to Central Okanagan, but she applies the same strategies to her cases in B.C. as she did during her career in England. Her main goal at first is to calm feelings as much as possible.
“It’s not professional to take instructions from a highly emotional client. You need to let them be heard first, to understand their loss and allow them to consider the next steps, which I set out for them.
“If you retain a lawyer who has little compassion, it can just rub salt into the wound,” she says. “I very much try to be a balm on the situation, at least initially, and try to get everybody to take a breath. Not everybody wants to do that—not by a long shot–but blind retaliation against family members and prolonged arguments over the estate will increase legal fees dramatically. Most of the time the legal fees are taken from the estate, but those individuals who are especially unreasonable are at risk of having an order made against them to pay costs personally.”
Hiring a lawyer who is both compassionate and knowledgeable of the law will bring you to a much speedier conclusion. Price-Stephens acknowledges that “speed” is a relative term given the time estate matters can take to resolve.
“Even where ugliness persists and settlement is derailed by an angry family member, knowing what the court would likely award gives the client the confidence to stand up to a potential bully,” she says.
Ultimately, estate claims may be settled by negotiation, trial or mediation. Price-Stephens is herself a qualified and experienced mediator and appreciates the value of the mediation process—“quicker than trial, less costly, private and, depending on the personalities involved, may save some family ties.”
B.C.’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act allows certain classes of people to contest a will if they feel it is unfair. This includes spouses and children, whether biological or legally adopted.
“Did you know it is possible for an individual to die leaving more than one spouse?” says Price-Stephens, who reports this as a little known fact among those clients affected. “The concept of ‘spouse’ has developed dramatically over the last decade.”
A typical example is a testator who was legally married but was apart and living in a separate long-term relationship at the time of death. Each potential spouse may have a valid claim to challenge the will, and it is essential that an executor does not decide arbitrarily who qualifies as a spouse and who does not, or it can be a costly mistake for the executor.
That’s why it is best to speak to Price-Stephens if you find yourself in an estate dispute. She will examine your case from every angle and get a good idea of what the judge will decide. That way, you will know if it is financially worth it to take the matter to court, pursue a settlement or initiate mediation.
This article is written by or on behalf of the sponsoring client and does not necessarily reflect the views of Okanagan Edge.
All Think Local Stories