Inheritance: How to Stem Conflicts
No two people could be as different as my brother and me, but even if siblings share a lot of similarities, the death of their parents and dividing of an estate can be a wedge between them.
I’ve heard numerous stories about money and possessions segregating families into warring factions. Accusations fly like nuclear missiles, and the devastation lasts a lifetime.
At the end of this post, I’ll provide tips to help others grease the task of dispersing an inheritance, but first allow me to share my story. I learned a little from being the executrix of my parents’ estate, but the two primary reasons it was mostly hassle-free weren’t things I put in place. You could say my brother made it easy for me.
He lacked an attachment to the family and to the household property. And he was a resident in a Florida prison.
Rich has spent a lot of his life behind bars. The pattern started in his late teens, but his rebellion began much earlier. My brother didn’t get along with our parents and he didn’t get along with me. Admittedly, I wasn’t perfect. I’ll own my part. He says I was a smart mouth. He’s right. But I did primarily obey our parents, except in arguing with my brother. Rich was more of a free spirit, and that collided with my mother’s control-oriented parenting.
Our mother died while my brother was in a prison. Out of state, he was denied permission to attend the funeral in Mississippi. I conducted the disposition of the estate by mail. I inherited the bulk of the property, including the house and land, and he was allotted an amount my mother set forth in a will. Where to park his inheritance while he was in prison was a point of contention. I disagreed with his decision and offered an alternative, but in the end, the money was his to do with in the way he wished. I mailed it to where he wanted it.
As I cleaned out our parents’ home, I asked Rich if there was anything in particular he wanted. He had been gone so long, he said, he couldn’t pinpoint a single item.
We inherit more than tangible objects. We inherit experiences, and our personalities shade our perceptions. My brother and I lived in the same household, but we have starkly different feelings about our upbringing and about our parents. As a result, I’m extremely attached. He is extremely not.
I’m happy to report my brother celebrated a year out of prison and a year substance free on April 1st. He invited God to change his internal world. I’m proud of him. He’s got a lot of healing to do yet, but who among us does not?
Here’s four things I believe took the discord out of our interactions:
Existence of a will. Immediately after my father’s death, my mother decided to visit an attorney and make out a will. While some children may feel entitled to an inheritance, the bottom line is it’s our parents’ money and property. They earned it. They’re entitled to give it away in the way they see fit. That takes the steam out of sibling-to-sibling resentment and accusations. An honest executor or executrix is simply carrying out the wishes of the parent.
Offer things of value. Be generous, but not out of a sense of guilt. Though my brother asked for nothing, I set aside things that ended up having sentimental value to him. A package of letters. A couple of Bibles. Photographs. I did not, however, offer him things that would have ushered in resentment on my part, especially if he’d frivolously used them. I gave out of love and maintained my boundaries.
Keep siblings informed of the process. This helps eliminate or minimize misunderstandings and accusations of improper handling of the estate. Be as transparent as possible, but also be aware that you might trigger conflict – so be judicious.
Acknowledge the blessing of a shared history. One of my favorite things about the relationship with my brother is when we get together and reminisce. Only he and I know the experience of going to the storm cellar there at night in thunderstorms, and only we know where the mouth of the shelter’s buried drain is. With our parents gone, we alone carry around the same memories.
Divided by our differences or unified in our memories, we are their legacy.
What would you add to these tips? What helped keep the peace in your family?
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