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Inheritance Disputes: Why These Family Dramas Are Common After Death

When Aretha Franklin died, everyone assumed that she would have a peaceful death. She gifted the world with her beautiful voice and songs like “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” for decades, after all. But her passing only started a drama that has been going on for almost three years: inheritance dispute.

The story is complicated and sometimes feels like straight out of a soap opera. Rumors have it that her relatives, including her sons, thought that she didn’t have any will.

However, it turns out she did. Quite a couple of documents have surfaced through the years, and some have been found in the unlikeliest places like underneath sofa cushions. But she used to live in Michigan, a state that may honor less-than-formal wills as long as they have been signed by the individual without coercion.

Now, her family is trying to figure out who should be the executor of her trust and how much her children should get.

Make no mistake, though. Aretha’s family isn’t alone. Hundreds of similar cases happen each year, and sadly they can rip families apart.

Statistics show that over 60% who found themselves fighting against their siblings over a will did not regret the process. It could mean they were satisfied with the results or got what they wanted.

However, this also resulted in at least 30% claiming that other family members refrained from talking to them, and this strain in relationships could last for years or even generations.

That’s why families might need the services of professionals like estate and trust litigation attorneys before disputes can become ugly. But then again, why do families fight over possessions in the first place?

1. Money Seems to Be One of the Roots of It All

Most people think that humans are inherently greedy, but more studies suggest that this may not be the case. Instead, we are social animals and, therefore, hardwired to cooperate with one another, according to many anthropologists.

In fact, this characteristic might have helped some of our prehistoric ancestors survive the toughest times. The older adults in Okinawa, Japan, also consider the concept of community as one of their secrets to longevity.

But in a Forbes article, geropsychology specialist Aladdin, Ossorio, PsyD, said that humans can also be obsessed with money—and that may make one greedy or selfish.

2. Humans Are Competitive

Although some studies say humans are not really selfish or greedy, they cannot argue that our species is highly competitive.

A survey by the Harvard School of Public Health many years ago hinted about this. When they asked their staff, faculty, and students, they learned that:

  • About 50% of the respondents would have wanted to live in a world where they would earn $50,000 but the average salary was only half of that than in a place where the average wage is $200,000, but they could earn only $100,000.
  • They’d also choose to live on a planet with ugly, stupid kids than in a world where their child is being left behind.


The theory of natural selection may also relate to competition. One of Darwin’s theories explained that organisms will have to adapt and change as time passes on based on the environment they’re in. However, only those with favorable traits will eventually continue—in other words, survival of the fittest.

How do inheritance disputes associate with competition? Families or anyone who believes they have a stake in the assets may view these material things as a prize for their hard work, commitment, and loyalty.

Further, competition often involves self-evaluation. If one deems themselves deserving of a much higher reward, they may feel some injustice if they received less or none at all in reality.

3. Death Often Brings a Lot of Anxiety

In one of the studies on the economic consequences of a husband’s death, women are more likely to fall into the poverty line after their spouse’s passing. Moreover, those who lose their partners early or while they’re still young may suffer the most economic hardship after widowhood.

Despite the increased participation of women in the workforce, females are still paid less than males even when they’re performing the same jobs. Often, too, younger women may not be able to take a full-time job to give themselves more time to take care of the children.

Inheritance, therefore, means financial stability or freedom for those left behind. The anxiety may then trigger competition and dispute if they feel the will or division of assets won’t meet their needs.

To avoid inheritance disputes, experts highly recommend estate planning. But it’s also just as important to communicate its existence before one passes.

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