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Musings on Dysfunctional Families


No family is perfect, although on the continuum of dysfunction, there are certainly more dysfunctional families than others.

Estate litigation usually occurs because of the longstanding dysfunction that exists in a family that is exacerbated with the death of a family member – often the matriarch or patriarch of the family who was keeping order in the family while that person was alive.  When that leader of the family passes away (or sadly, even before that person passes away and while he or she is in a weakened condition), dysfunction, greed, and selfishness drive people to act in surprising ways.

Everybody’s got a story, and some stories repeat themselves.  There are the common sibling rivalries caused by the siblings themselves, or due to the parents’ favouritism; there are the ailing parents who trust one child to be their caretaker, but the caretaker ends up abusing their control over the the parents’ finances, much to the horror of their siblings; there are the warring blended families, between the children of the first spouse with the second spouse; and there are the family estrangements caused by any number of reasons.

When somebody dies, the worlds of the people who loved or hated that person come spilling out, and the mourning process is a unique one for each mourner.

In order to do my job properly, it is always necessary for me to understand the various family dysfunctions, in order to determine what a just result for my client will be.  This involves dispassionate investigation, legal research, and a good dose of empathy.  I always try to treat others the way I want to be treated, and to help my client to understand the situation from all angles.  At the end of the day, it is the client that has to live with the result of their case, so it is definitely in their best interest to understand the realities and perceptions regarding their situation in order for the client to find true closure and peace with their litigation and the death of their family member.  In that regard, good communication and mutual trust and respect for each other is vital for a healthy solicitor-client relationship.

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