Siblings have a unique bond that can keep them close or tear them apart or, sometimes, a little of both on any given day. As a father of three (soon to be four), I’m all too familiar with the ups and down that siblings face. As an advisor, I’ve seen relationship ups and downs develop as they process the death of a parent. Without a question, this can be a difficult time for any individual, but settling an estate is an additional stressor that can easily play havoc on siblings. How do you minimize sibling arguments after you’re no longer there to referee?
The hardest part for you when considering your beneficiaries is setting expectations. Don’t tell your children they’re going to inherit the moon and leave them a 1988 Toyota Corolla with 300,000 miles (Someone will call and tell me how great Corollas were in the 80’s. Yes, they are super sweet rides so no need to call). It’s especially problematic if the other sibling gets the babied Corvette in the garage with no explanation. Setting expectations sets the stage for entire process. Have conversations with your heirs about your intentions. It’s easier to explain why you’ve chosen certain items to go to certain people face-to-face rather than from a piece of paper. This helps them express desire for certain things too. Maybe someone wants the Corolla for sentimental value?
Document, document, and update. Conversations and setting expectations are both key, but don’t forget to put it in writing. There are several key documents an Estate Attorney can work with you to create but they need to be periodically reviewed. You don’t want to unintentionally exclude a loved one because your will wasn’t updated. Also document specific items that you want specific people to have. We have high expectations of our children and occasionally they don’t do what they’re told so write it down and make them all aware of your wishes. Putting it in writing can reduce or eliminate blaming the executor of the estate.
In my experience, most estates settle with little or no issues regarding arguments among siblings. The few that have issues are those that had no idea what to expect or believed they would inherit significantly more than they did. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. We are only granted a short time on this Earth and we’d all like to leave it a little better than we found it. No matter the amount of inheritance an heir receives, we want them to receive it with ease and civility. It all begins with you and the steps you take.
Written by Alex Vassey, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Vassey Financial Planning & Investments. With systematic planning and proven strategies, Alex Vassey helps families prepare for all stages of life from college savings accounts, to funding a busy and vital retirement, to handling long term care insurance needs. You can reach Alex via email at Alex@vasseyfpi.com or at his office, located at 140 Bountyland Road, Seneca, SC 29672.