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A death in the family is a difficult and tragic time for anyone to go through.

However, a further source of pain during this period of grief can come in the form of disputes between family members over financial matters.

Statistics show that around 25% of families* fall out over money following bereavement. From property to possessions, to who is responsible for covering the cost of a funeral, these disputes can amplify stress during what is already a very challenging time for a family unit.

Leesa Cleary, a probate lawyer who specialises in dealing with family issues says; “It’s important to know where you stand when it comes to the financial situation of the deceased, and your obligations, as well as your entitlements. If you’re facing a situation where you feel you may need to seek legal advice, the best thing you can do it go ahead and speak with a professional who can help assess your situation and put your mind at ease”.

If you or someone you know is currently going through a family dispute, these are the most common issues that occur and how to handle them.

Property disputes

One of the top disputes is the inheritance from a family home after the remaining parent has passed on, leaving the property to a number of siblings. Often family members will want to sell the property and divide the money, however one member might be in charge of the sale, and ask for a bigger percentage of the inheritance due to the time put in and negotiating a good deal.

To make the sale fair and prevent arguments, services such as a real estate agent comparison site can help connect you with an agent in the local area with a great track record and local knowledge. They will be best placed to advise on the sale of the property, and are experienced in dealing with sensitive issues.

Funeral costs

Unfortunately if someone passes away unexpectedly, it’s unlikely they will have planned for this and taken out funeral insurance, or prepaid their own funeral, and a situation may arise where there is a dispute over who should be expected to contribute to the high funeral cost.

Legally speaking, the person who arranges the funeral generally has to sign a contract with the funeral director and is legally responsible to pay for the funeral. However, if there is enough money in the estate, the person arranging the funeral may be able to recover these costs from the estate. If that’s not possible, the Australian government has special funds to help people pay for funerals, for example for pensioners and veterans. You can find out more by visiting the Department of Human Services. Also, you can look into crowdfunding to get friends and locals involved in helping out financially.

Valuables, possessions and money

Many family disputes arise when it comes to the inheritance of a person’s possessions, both with intrinsic monetary and sentimental value, and the money in their estate.

If the person who has passed had a legal will this can help to make things less complicated, however these can be contested if someone feels they have not been adequately provided for, are unhappy that they’ve been left out, or the will is invalid, to name a few reasons.

Leesa Cleary says “The death of a close family member is a trying time, and legal disputes only add to this. However, it is your right to contest a Will on a number of grounds. Seek legal advice before you make your intentions known to your family to avoid unnecessary conflict.”

Mediation

If your family are not able to sort out your differences between yourselves, something to consider before undertaking legal action is mediation. This is a process whereby an independent mediator helps you to work through the dispute in a way that allows each party to have their viewpoint heard and considered, with the goal of finding an outcome that everyone can agree on.

The benefits of mediation is that it is significantly less expensive than hiring a lawyer, and it may also go a long way to repairing damaged family relationships and allowing you to get back on track after a difficult time.

Have you ever been stuck in a position like this? Share with us in the comments. 

  • Unfortunately, this can certainly bring out the ugly side of a family.

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  • Yes we have been faced with this recently. As the whole situation is not bad enough

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  • It is amazing how greed suddenly shows up after money is found to be involved.

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  • I know of a situation where a house which was part of a deceased estate was empty, one family member offered to buy the other family members portion of the property and they refused, the Public Trustee had to put it up for auction.
    THe couple who wanted to buy it had somebody bid for it on their behalf ( all done legally) and they bought if for less than they offered to pay the others. There was a lot of legal expenses caused by all the beneficiaries. Imagine the shock and disgusting reactions when it came time for the people to sign the legal documents on the sale of the house. A young couple (relatives) when the had just got married had offered to rent the house when it became empty and maintain the gardens etc. Instead of that the couple who bought the house had been doing the large gardens at their own expense for over two years. The house could have been rented out and recouped the rates & taxes that came out of the estate.

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  • The lady across the road from me died 2 years ago. One son is holding up everything by contesting. House has been empty for 2 years.

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  • I had a terrible time when my mother was killed in a plane crash overseas. Between the tourist plane company going into liquidation and back here an ex who was still in her will, all in all it was a very unpleasant situation and my brother and I were very glad when it was over as we were only 18 and 16 at the time. I am determined to have my will in order so my sons don’t have to go through anything similar.


    • Sorry to hear your mum was killed it a plane crash and you and your brother went through this terrible time to arrange everything !

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  • I am lucky this situation has not happen to me and my family.

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  • Have I ever! My mother in law passed away in 2005. She left an estate consisting of her home on 100 acres. Her will stated this was to be sold and the proceeds divided amongst the beneficiaries (her children.) her 2 eldest were named as executors, one dropped out and the next eldest volunteered. It took over 10 years to sell the property. Over this time, the debts mounted. The exceutors rented it out but there seems to be very little rent to show for it. 2 of the land titles were mortgaged. It really was a circus yet the executors seem to have got away scot free with all their dastardly deeds and nasty greed. So sad

    Reply

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