During the years in which I handled estate litigation, I noticed that one of the words that my clients repeatedly used to describe the person on the other side of the lawsuit was "betrayal". Estate fights are more difficult than many lawsuits because of the deep emotional impact of the actions that began it all. When a person feels betrayed, he or she is extremely motivated to bring about what he or she sees as justice.
This is where the dirty little family secrets come in. I recently read an article at www.disinherited.com that talks about how the exposure of family secrets, both to other family members and to outsiders, can lead to that feeling of betrayal. Click here to read the article.
When a parent passes away, some secrets become known. The secret that I've seen most often exposed is the exploitation of the parent by one of the children. This might be persuading the parent to make a new will that favours one child, or the abuse of a power of attorney document, theft of the parent's money disguised as "help", or physical abuse of the parent. When the other children find out, the feeling of betrayal is overwhelming and is quickly followed by anger, confusion, and hurt on behalf of the abused parent. Most families never recover.