I Hate to Communicate...

The problem underlying many Trust and Will disputes is bad family dynamics and dysfunctional family relationships. People just do not get along. And where there’s dysfunctional relationships, there’s misunderstandings galore.

If you are dealing with a dysfunctional relationship, you have to take a different approach. That approach begins with communication–easier said than done, I know. I didn’t say dealing with dysfunctional relationships would be easy. If it were easy, you’d already be doing it. But it also is not impossible. Here’s a few thoughts on communication:

  1. Cut out the middle men (or women). Oftentimes miscommunication begins with third parties who claim to have heard someone say something about you or about the situation in which you find yourself. Maybe the third person is right, maybe they are wrong; but when gossip is taken as truth, it causes the basis for bad feelings. And those feelings can be hard to address because the other party may have no idea what the problem is to begin with. If you want to know for certain what someone is saying, then ask them about it.
  2. Put the past aside, at least for a little while. We all have done things we later regret. Sometimes the fight people are having now is just a proxy for the actions they took many years ago. How do you even begin to address past insults? Well that’s what therapists are for, not lawyers. But I can tell you from personal experience that sometimes you just have to forgive and forget…or at least forget. Do you really want to spend all your time, money and emotional energy fighting with a family member over a past insult? If you have a current beef with someone, fair enough. But past wrongs should be left in the past.
  3. Let’s focus on facts. Past wrongs make terrible arguments for current lawsuits. Many times people want to dredge up wrongs from years ago to try and support their current legal position. It simply does not work. There is no judge in the State who wants to hear about what someone did 20 years ago and how that affects the current distribution of an estate. If you are going to bring a legal claim in court, then focus on the facts at hand—the facts that prove your case NOW…not in the distant past.
  4. Over inform. If you are a Trustee dealing with a dysfunctional family member do yourself a big favor and over inform them of the Trust activity. Nothing breeds suspicion and fear more than under informing Trust beneficiaries. Especially where you withhold bank account information, income information, or current investment information. If you have the info, give it out.

Not every difficult situation can be solved with good communication, especially if the opposing party refuses to communicate. But shifting your approach and communicating from a different angle can make a difference. If nothing else, you will make yourself look like the reasonable one in front of the Court; and sometimes that is half the battle.