Locations in Sioux Falls & Mitchell

Resolving Family Conflicts Over Wills and Trusts

Trust and Estate Disputes

Family disputes over wills and trusts can lead to months of suffering and stress for everyone involved. Despite someone’s best interests, their will may leave more questions than answers, and contests from relatives can ultimately lead to costly legal battles. Rather than suffer through this alone, you can consult with an experienced estate lawyer who knows how to resolve disputes over wills and trusts swiftly. 

Alvine Law Firm in Sioux Falls, SD, has years of experience representing clients in complex estate and trust dispute cases. We will help you navigate the ins and outs of a dispute to reach a desirable outcome. Contact us to arrange a free consultation with an attorney. 

Common Causes of Family Conflicts Over Estates

There are various reasons to contest a will or trust. Most estate conflicts arise over perceived unfairness or ambiguity. A lawyer can help resolve these conflicts by operating as a neutral third-party and offering legal guidance. They can tell you what is legally permissible or achievable, as well as what may not be able to be changed based on the writing in a will.

Below are the most common reasons people have disputes over will.

Unequal Distribution of Assets 

When people plan their estate, they often have specific ideas in mind for their assets. They designate beneficiaries and entrust the executor or trustee to ensure their wishes are followed. However, there are cases when people can be manipulated or coerced into changing their wills or trusts toward the end of their lives. They may have cognitive impairments or simply lack the understanding to realize what they are signing away.

An uncharacteristic distribution of assets, such as leaving an entire estate to one child or a family friend, could indicate that there was manipulation involved. Individuals who had previous conversations about what they wanted to do with their assets after death are unlikely to change everything in secrecy; people acting as powers of attorney or fiduciaries could also make changes to estates that seem to throw the asset distribution completely off-balance.

If you suspect that a loved one’s last wishes are not accurate, consult with a lawyer as soon as you can. They can help you investigate the situation further and take legal action, if possible.

Ambiguities in Wills or Documents

A will can be fully legal without being entirely clear, as can trusts. When this happens, family members often fall into conflict over what the grantor intended, which leads to disputes and ongoing arguments. 

Any ambiguity in a will or document should be handled legally. There may be supportive evidence one can bring forth to prove their right to certain assets; in other cases, it may be best to bring the case to the courts and allow them to determine the intended distribution of assets.

When settlement cannot be reached with a will, then the asset distribution will follow South Dakota’s intestate succession laws (S.D.C.L. 29A-2-103). This outlines the legal line of inheritance for someone if they die with or without a spouse and with or without children.

Under South Dakota inheritance laws, a surviving spouse inherits everything. If the decedent had children (with the spouse or someone else), then they will receive equal shares of the estate. Next of kin (parents or siblings) become sole inheritors if there is no spouse or children.

Perceived Injustices and Family Grievances 

People who feel slighted by their inheritance or lack thereof can dispute an estate in court. This does not mean they are entitled to anything, as the court can deem the will valid. However, a dispute is a costly legal process that stops family members from receiving assets they are entitled to in a timely manner. Probate can take up to two years, leading to prolonged suffering and financial strain.

Operating within the law is the best way to overcome these challenges. An estate lawyer like one of the members at Alvine Law Firm can help. They have experience in handling estates of all sizes, and they can represent you in court if you are caught in the midst of a dispute.

Call 605-275-0808 to schedule a free consultation with an estate lawyer in Sioux Falls.

Lack of Communication and Transparency

South Dakota law requires personal representatives and trustees to act in the greatest good of the beneficiaries. They have fiduciary duties that bind them to conduct themselves ethically and ensure that assets are distributed appropriately. They must also handle any taxes, outstanding debts, and credits due on the decedent’s behalf. 

Lack of communication can lead to confusion, anger, and conflict. It can also delay the legal process and prevent inheritors from receiving their dues. Lack of transparency can result in a breach of duty, which is a legal violation in South Dakota.

Your best bet at resolving this situation is to seek an experienced attorney who knows all the relevant laws and statutes to help you reach a swift resolution. 

Preventative Measures 

It is not possible to always avoid family disputes over wills or trusts. Sometimes, relatives who have not been present for years will insist they were promised assets or are entitled to part of the estate. Legal representation is the best way to handle these issues, particularly when an estate is in probate.

If you want to prevent family disputes over your estate, there are several steps you can take: 

  • Write a clear and detailed estate plan. Ensure that your will or trust is comprehensive, detailed, and clear. Have a lawyer review it to resolve any ambiguous wording or phrasing. This can ensure that there is no confusion over who is and is not entitled to your assets. You can also clearly disinherit people from your estate if you believe they would likely cause conflict after your passing.
  • Involve trusted family members in the estate planning process. Consult with family members who you wholeheartedly trust to work with you during the process. Let them know what assets you want them to have and what you don’t. Consider having letters stating what they are entitled to individually notarized, so they can submit them as evidence in the future if your will or trust was ever contested. 
  • Regularly update and review estate documents. At least once a year, review your estate paperwork and ensure it reflects your wishes. If you notice any changes you did not consent to, consult a lawyer to rectify this situation. ,
  • Use professional mediation and legal counsel during planning. Working with a legal team and mediator can help you fairly divide assets according to your wishes. This can also help clear up any confusion that may affect your family members down the line.

Who Can Contest a Will in South Dakota? 

You cannot contest a will solely because you feel entitled to an estate. In South Dakota, you can contest a will or trust if you are a:

  • Spouse
  • Child (heir) 
  • Beneficiary 
  • Creditor of the estate
  • Holder of a property right in the estate

Contesting a will is a complex legal process that should not be done without careful consideration of the implications. If a will is found invalid upon review by the court, assets will then follow inheritance laws, which means other beneficiaries will receive nothing.

There are some grounds to contest a will, such as elder abuse, brain dysfunction, and mental impairment. However, the burden of proof will fall on the person contesting the will, and if they cannot substantiate their claim, then they will likely be unsuccessful.

If you want to contest a will, you should first speak with an estate attorney to see if you have a strong case. Our team would be happy to discuss your situation and recommend next steps.


Resolving a family dispute over a will or trust can be financially and emotionally taxing. Comprehensive estate planning with legal counsel is the best way to prevent disputes in the first place. However, if contests do arise, then parties should reach out to an attorney for personalized legal advice.

The estate lawyers at Alvine Law Firm in South Dakota have years of experience managing a variety of estate cases, ranging from small to complex. Please call our office in Sioux Falls at 605-275-0808 for more information. Click here to schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers.

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