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How to manage an estate dispute without inheriting heartache

Zinta Harris


How to manage an estate dispute without inheriting heartache

Over the next two decades, we will see the biggest wealth transfer from generation to generation in Australian history. And it’s going to be complicated. With over half of all marriages ending in divorce, blended families are on the rise. When you consider that estate disputes have increased by fifty per cent over the last decade, and that over seventy per cent of these disputes are made in the context of blended families, the potential for devastating breakdowns in family units across Australia is enormous.

While taking steps to undertake comprehensive estate planning will in many cases go a long way to preventing disputes after death, even specialist estate lawyers will tell you that there is no “watertight” way to guarantee that a dispute over inheritance won’t happen.

We have all heard of those bitter estate battles that leave families broken for generations and hard-earned inheritances gouged by huge legal costs.

Sadly, in my 25 plus years of work as a wills and estates lawyer and mediator, I have been involved in too many of these awful tales. Over and over, I have seen the following patterns:

  • People are often in grief and, in their sadness, anger and wish to blame others, they try to use a legal process to resolve underlying emotional issues.
  • People often don’t know their responsibilities or rights, or what steps should be taken after the loss of a loved one.
  • When seeking that advice, grieving families are often steered down a traditional court process rather than being advised about alternative resolution pathways that could keep them out of court.

The fact is that people who are grieving, unsure of their rights or responsibilities, or confused by the process, can easily become driven by fear and mistrust of other family members or the executors appointed under a will. Initial feelings of sadness can be replaced with intense feelings of anger and a wish to blame others – which are of course a completely normal part of the grieving process. However, if amplified in a legal dispute, these feelings can cause significant conflict.

As devastating as the loss of a loved one can be, it is the conflict that follows when family members begin court proceedings to fight over the inheritance that can irreparably damage family relationships for generations to come.

Grieving families don’t need to start legal proceedings, they need to support to hold difficult conversations.

Instead of drawing battle lines in the sand and immediately firing shots of aggressive correspondence, families should be given some time and space to grieve the loss of their loved one. Instead of digging in the trenches and throwing grenades by issuing court proceedings supported by intensely emotional sworn statements, families should instead be encouraged to resolve the issues in dispute in a holistic way that deals with the deep-seated emotional issues that usually sit behind the legal ones.

Rest in Peace – how to manage an estate dispute without inheriting heartache – was written to give bereaved families facing the tools to resolve conflict over inheritance without going to court – not just to save the loss of a hard-earned inheritance to legal costs, but also to prevent the breakdown of family relationships.

Whether you are facing an estate dispute following the loss of a loved one, or whether you fear (or know) that a battle is coming Rest in Peace will help guide you through the disputed estates process in the least damaging way for you and your family.

Written to help families resolve their legal differences, the book guides readers though:

  • The emotional landscape (the impacts of grief and how to make values-based decisions that will help to reach meaningful and lasting resolution)
  • The legal landscape (the who, what, why and when of estate administration, the main ways estates can be contested and the law’s stance on each); and
  • The way forward (the options available resolve estate disputes, tips on constructive negotiation, which professionals to involve and what information will be needed – while maintaining family relationships).

To purchase a copy and to learn more visit

 Zinta Harris is an Accredited Specialist in Succession Law and Business Law (Qld) and owner of Resolve Estate Law. Call (07) 3371 0795 or visit

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