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Monetary Damages Do Not Necessarily Achieve An Emotional Win


In California, over the years, I have handled many cases involving disputes between family members over the estates of a deceased relative. Brothers against sisters, sisters against brothers, uncles against nieces, nephews and others.  Some cases go to trial; other cases settle.  In all events, however, someone is going to be disappointed with the outcome, which disappointment can occur even if they prevail.

If you have been disinherited, you believe that the instrument that disinherited you was obtained by undue influence or when your deceased loved one (or relative) was incompetent, your recourse is the courts.  Let’s say that you succeed in getting the offending instrument (a will or a trust) thrown out.  What then?

The court may say that if there is no other earlier instrument, the estate will go by intestacy (as if the decedent died without a will) and it will then be divided among the heirs of the decedent.  However, if there is an earlier instrument (perhaps a will) in which you have also been disinherited, then prevailing in the trust contest only sets you up for the next contest, which is to challenge the will (presumably on the same grounds as you challenged the trust).

Let’s say you prevail on that contest; again, the result is that the estate goes by way of intestacy.  You will get your share.

Without going to trial, you might be able to negotiate a settlement with your offending relatives.  This gets you money or other assets and the certainty that you would not have if you went to trial.  It also ends the case, completely and totally.

Which is my point:  Winning, by trial or settlement, only results in obtaining money.  It may not give you the emotional surcease that you seek … but that is our system.  Problems are resolved by awarding monetary damages or assets with value.  There is no mark of Cain, no public shaming or other non-monetary retribution to be achieved in court.   Just money.

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