Squabbles among siblings are expected when they are young. Unfortunately, such discord can (and does) continue into adulthood. One of the common triggers for the mother of all squabbles, however, is when the last surviving parent passes.
A recent Law Depot article, titled "Estate Planning: 4 Things Siblings Feud Over," identified four common themes that cause estate fights between siblings. In addition, the article offers some practical antidotes to this infectious disease.
Here are the horrible four to avoid:
- No Healthcare Directive and Power of Attorney
- No Last Will and Testament
- Lack of Communication
- Wrong Executor
A parent who falls ill can create stress, particularly when they require extended hospital care. The situation can go from bad to really bad if the health condition turns critical and the parent is no longer able to state his or her wishes for continued care. Without a Healthcare Directive or Power of Attorney, loved ones must decide tough issues on their own, which can cause hard feelings ... especially when siblings do not come to an agreement.
If your parents both pass away without a Last Will and Testament, it can create a state of chaos for those left to deal with the aftermath. The distribution of family heirlooms and other family possessions can provide fuel for simmering tempers and trigger fighting between siblings. Parents need to create a Last Will and Testament and specify who gets what (and sometimes why).
The original article warns that in some instances having a Last Will and Testament simply does not keep the kids from feuding. Parents may give one child a precious family heirloom or more money because they were their sole caregiver. This can create hard feelings among the other siblings. Accordingly, parents should speak to their children about their estate plan and its terms so the children understand why these decisions were made, allowing everyone a chance to discuss an equitable resolution.
When creating a Last Will and Testament, parents will appoint an executor to distribute the assets of their estate per the provisions of their wills. If one child is appointed executor with the power to make decisions, it can create stress among siblings. The original article suggests that parents add a clause in their wills requiring that decisions be made by majority vote. This keeps the family member who is the executor in check so there is less likelihood (real or perceived) they will abuse that authority. Parents can also select a third party as their executor.
Blood is thicker than water, and having the entire family working together with a critically ill parent is the best way to face a very difficult and already trying situation. Make sure the estate planning documents of our parents are up-to-date. This can eliminate unnecessary in-fighting and maintain the family peace your parents would want as their legacy.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri) and to download free tools to help you organize your estate, visit my estate planning website.
Reference: Law Depot (September 24, 2014) "Estate Planning: 4 Things Siblings Feud Over"