On June 14, 2012

Anyone who has had the frustrating of experience of sorting out the estate of a family member who’s passed away knows the importance of telling loved ones your final wishes. Effective estate planning involving clear communication can help prevent the bitter feuds that develop among children and grandchildren after someone dies. In one recent case, it could have potentially saved lives.

A family ranch about 30 miles southwest of Durango, Colorado, was not just the center of a family dispute over inheritance, but also the purported cause of three deaths. After the woman who owned the ranch died in April, her 40-year-old grandson inherited the 280-acre property. A La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said that sometime after the grandson took over the ranch, he served an eviction notice to the woman’s 69-year-old son and ordered him to leave the property within 10 days. Apparently upset over the eviction and the fact that his mother had left the ranch to his nephew, the son appears to have killed his nephew and sister before taking his own life.

The bodies of all three family members were found last week by sheriff’s officials responding to a report about suspicious activities at the home of the man’s nephew and sister. The body of the man assumed to have committed the killings was found hanging in a barn at a farm. That led authorities to check his sister’s property, where his nephew’s body was found in a shallow grave and his sister was found dead inside the home. Officials pieced together the bizarre chain of events using notes found at the farm. The original ranch owner’s son is believed to have shot his sister and strangled his nephew before going to the farm and committing suicide.

While this may be an extreme case of bitterness over an inheritance, it does remind us that estate planning is about more than wills and trusts. It also requires clear communication among family members and close friends. Talking to your loved ones about your estate and how you plan to divide it can ease tension and help family members understand your choices before it’s too late. Perhaps if the woman who left the ranch to her grandson had spoken to him and her son about why she left it to him, the tragedy of these three deaths could have been averted.

Source: The Durango Herald, “Last will dispute suspected in deaths,” Patrick Armijo and Stephanie Cook, June 11, 2012

Categories: Estate Planning

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