One Big Happy Family, Right?

happy-familyby Genene Dunn

The most common answer received to the question of what is most important in one’s life is: family. Most people feel that family comes before anything else, and for some family is everything that matters to them. Growing up we may have been more concerned about how much fun you have with your friends or how much attention you are able to obtain from the opposite sex, but that trend seems to fade as we settle down in life and become more family-oriented.

Because family is so important to most of us, it is often difficult to communicate to people that family members may not always be the warm, loving characters they currently are when tragedy strikes. Working at a law firm that deals with the trust administration and probate process when a family member dies, we see first-hand what can happen to families when a member is no longer with them and the others are left to deal with what has been left behind.

I work on all of our probate files at our firm, and am the person who primarily deals with communicating with our clients and the family members involved with an estate when a family member passes without having a properly funded trust. The number one thing I hear from families at our first meeting to discuss the probate process is, “we are not the kind of family that is going to fight over this, we just want to get it done as quickly as possible.” Almost every family says this in the beginning of the process, and it’s usually true about 10% of the time. As the process continues, family members forget what they were told about the process, and begin to ask each other what is happening and why certain decisions are being made or why things are moving slower than they expected. Rather than directing these questions to our office, family members often discuss them among themselves, give out incorrect information, and cause hurt feelings over things that are often nothing more than a mis-communication.

Due to the experience we have with dealing with family members in these troubling times, we always remind our clients and the families that all questions concerning the estate or trust administration should be directed to our office as we are happy to discuss any questions with all parties involved. We prefer this method because it is the only way we can be sure everyone is getting the proper information. Also, if anybody does not like a decision that is being made, we would prefer them to be upset with our office rather than each other. It never fails that the families that end up fighting with each other the most, and end up delaying the process further because of the fighting, are always those families that tried to discuss things with each other rather than our office.

Nobody enjoys having to go through the probate process at all, especially during one of the most difficult times in life. That is why we are here, to help move the process along as quickly as the court will allow, and take the pressure off the family members by letting us handle the burden. The best advice we can give to avoid family conflict during these difficult times is for everyone to utilize and rely upon the professionals involved in the matter, or hire an attorney to handle the situation instead of trying to take matters into their own hands.

Another easy solution to this common problem, is to have a plan in place for your loved ones in case something happens to you. When there is a properly funded trust in place, the family feuds are greatly reduced because the person in charge is only effectuating what decisions were already made by the deceased according to what is written in that person’s trust. Having a trust also keeps the estate out of the probate court, and the family is then able to handle things on a personal level with their attorney rather than trying to convince the court to confirm what they believe is best on some things.

Genene Dunn is a law clerk at the Law Offices of Donald A. Hunsberger. Hunsberger Law is a full-service estate and business planning legal firm, with estate planning attorneys and a licensed, professional fiduciary on staff. Connect with Don Hunsberger by calling (714) 663-8000 or visiting

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