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The stages of inherited wealth

A recent Facebook advertisement from the New Yorker linked to a piece written by Norah Ephron from an October 2010 issue. The stages that she describes are still apt today.

When completing estate planning, it is helpful to keep in mind the expectations of children and other loved one. If you choose another route other than an equal split, make sure to explain the decision.

What are the five stages?

After her childless uncle passed away suddenly from pneumonia, speculation started about the amount of his wealth, it had to be in the millions. This uncle had spent his career as a successful property developer.

Thus, the author entered the first stages of inherited wealth: Glee and sloth.

Her father called to say that her uncle had cut her out of the will, because he thought she had enough money. A sister agreed that they would still split any inheritance evenly, but of her three sisters, only two agreed to the plan. Within one day, she had now entered the third stage of dissention.

Her uncle had not actually cut her out of the will, but knowing one sister objected to sharing left a scar. The sisters would receive equal shares, but share with a long-term housekeeper who was to receive ½ the estate. Then, it turned out some of his recent investments had lost money.

Stage four: Masterpiece in the closet

By the next week, a sister called with the exciting development that a painting in the apartment might be a Monet. It turned out the painting was not a Monet.

Ultimately, the inheritance was much less than initially expected. She never made it to that fifth stage of wealth. This forced her to go back to work on a manuscript that became "When Harry Met Sally..." and changed her life. Maybe the most beautiful part was that she purchased a beautiful dogwood tree that reminds her of her uncle every time it blooms.

One way to minimize this roller coaster of information is to be open and transparent about gifts during a lifetime. It is not easy for every family, but by being as candid as possible is can avoid or mitigate the dissention phase.

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