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Probate family feuds: What happens when the family doesn't get along?

Dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another condition causing loss of competence is difficult enough. The problem becomes even more troublesome when the condition acts as a spark to ignite family conflict. Sibling rivalries, second marriages, the refusal to accept reduced competency, and simple greed are but some of the situations that add fuel to the fire and foster dramatic family feuds. Often the fire grows so great that families become torn in half, spending months – or even years – battling in probate court. Sadly, many families are never able to repair the damage, emotionally or financially.CFPL logo

No one wants to end up in probate court fighting in a public family squabble. What can be done to avoid it? Sometimes nothing. If someone else is determined to steal from, cheat, take advantage of, or improperly care for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, you may have no choice but to go to court. Other times, however, messy and expensive probate court battles can be prevented, or at least minimized. How? Two ways: Know when to call an experienced probate litigation attorney, and know your legal rights.

The first one is easy. Anytime you suspect that someone is not acting properly towards an elderly loved one in a way that will either jeopardize that persons’ care or well-being, or may result in a loss of assets, then you should call an attorney who regularly represents clients in contested probate matters. Many such attorneys offer a low-cost or even free consultation. For example, the experienced attorneys at The Center For Probate Litigation will provide a free consultation to discuss your specific situation and let you know whether action is required. Too many families regret waiting and doing nothing – when in doubt, call an expert.

The second way to protect your family and often avoid drawn out court proceedings is to become educated about your legal rights. The Center For Elder Law and The Center For Probate Litigation have issued a series of articles for families of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, to educate about what they may face when a family dispute or conflict threatens to surface. These articles address the following topics under Michigan law:

Challenging a Power of Attorney or Patient Advocate Designation
Guardianship & Conservatorship Disputes
Theft and Exploitation of Assets
Legal Contests Involving Joint Assets, Wills and Trusts

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These articles are for information purposes only and are not a substitute for legal advice. Further, laws vary from state to state, and only Michigan’s laws are addressed. Generally speaking, other states have similar laws, but there is variance at times.

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at awmayoras @

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