When you sit down with your attorney to carefully account for all of your estate planning needs, it is natural to automatically focus on to-dos like protecting assets, deciding how to distribute funds to beneficiaries, protecting your business, and having a plan in place for incapacitation or death. If you are covered in these areas, you can rest easy for the most part. I say “for the most part” because one of the most likely and often overlooked threats to any estate plan is sibling rivalry.
You have likely heard or seen stories in newspapers and on TV of families bitterly fighting over what mom and dad left behind, but most people do not think that could ever happen to them. And if it does, they think it will simply fade away.
That can happen in many cases, but it typically stays firmly in place. And when this happens, serious problems arise.
I talk about sibling rivalry in more depth in my book, Who Gets Your Stuff When You Die. And the examples run the gamut. Should one or more of the children choose to challenge a will, for example, the cost of litigation can be very high. Not to mention the damage to relationships that can endure for generations.
Planning for Peace
Fortunately, there is much you can do to ensure a positive outcome for your family. Plans that are carefully crafted naturally prevent many problems — regardless of whether or not your children are rivals or best friends. The first step is to avoid surprises. Keep in mind that estate settlement issues arise when people are experiencing grief and trying to cope with loss. When emotions run high, we are less likely to be logical or even cooperative.
If one sibling is disappointed, it will not matter if their expectation is reasonable or not. It will only matter that they are dealing with this additional experience of loss at a very difficult time.
Assigning Sentimental Items
Start by letting your children tell you what is important to them. Parents are often surprised to learn the value of “that old thing” that their child has placed on it. If more than one child wants the same item, you may have to get creative about choosing or let them assist you in finding ways to determine who will inherit the item. If one sibling selects something of greater monetary value, you may decide to alter your estate plan to give the others more money or items to create a more equal distribution. And if there are inequalities, those should be made clear ahead of time.
An experienced estate planning lawyer can help you create the appropriate documents that will be fair and protect the interests of both the caregiver and other siblings.
Thinking through personality conflicts
Surprising as this may sound, sibling rivalry and conflict are not always about money or sentimental things. It is also likely to be about who will be in charge. Some people choose an adult child as their executor or trustee, and in doing so, it may cause discord between the other siblings — even if the older sibling has the necessary skills for the task.
The same can be true if you have co-executors who cannot agree on anything.
The same can be true when planning a funeral. One may want something small, but the other wants something larger.
Some differences that may sound petty can feel important in the midst of grief. Making prior arrangements for your memorial and burial ensures your children that your wishes are being respected. Important decisions do not have to be debated, and your children will be free to experience grief and healing in their own way.
Call Leigh Hilton PLLC today!!
All we are saying here is that you love your children, and you hope that you can count on them to love each other and treat each other with kindness and generosity. Wise planning can make it easier for them to do as you wish and avoid the potential for sibling rivalry. Call Leigh Hilton PLLC in Denton, Aubrey and Bartonville, and we will help walk you through all of your estate planning needs. We have ample experience and will take into consideration your particular situation. Proper planning of an estate, whether through a Will, Trust, or both, helps ensure your wishes are carried out.
Leigh Hilton PLLC wants to be your first call every time for any estate planning need. We look forward to serving you.