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Complicated family dynamics? Plan ahead to avoid sibling rivalry.

Often, siblings are in their 60s or 70s, but rivalries remain and may have only intensified over the years with career and financial success or lack thereof. From the time Mom or Dad needs more care, the disagreements can start.

Comprehensive estate planning and candid conversations can avoid some fights. For instance, if transferring assets while you are still alive, explain that the investments, gold coins or savings may be needed in the future to help pay for costs of long-term care. Including a “letter of wishes” in an estate plan can also be beneficial to address family issues, including sibling dynamics.

The blame game, judgment and grief

It is hard to peer into the future. An example is illustrative: Parents in their 90s have children, adult grandchildren and great-grandchildren spread across the country. As their father entered his last days, the children began squabbling about which grandchildren had called before he slipped into unconsciousness.

Another scenario involved several siblings who had saved monetary gifts from their parents to help cover the costs of their parents’ care. When their mother died, one sibling didn’t make it to the funeral, blaming weather and bad roads. It was the oldest sibling, who had spent his gift on himself and had struggled to come up with his share of the care expenses, which didn’t help.

In a time of grief, an estate plan that balances financial and emotional considerations can provide a road map through difficult family transitions. In our July 2017 post, we discussed several strategies to limit conflict.

An explanation of why

In addition to the terms in a will or trust, explaining your goals and the reasons for your choices can be beneficial. Talking about the plan while you are still alive can increase the level of comfort among beneficiaries.

One simple mistake that can easily lead to disharmony is naming one sibling a trustee. Having to enforce limits over brothers or sisters does no one any favors. Appointing an impartial corporate trustee can reduce a potential source of aggravation.

Of course, leaving each child the same amount of money can also limit the risk of siblings suing and wasting chunks of an inheritance on legal fees. If there is a significant disparity, explain why – maybe you provided a down payment on a home for one child, but not another, and wanted to even out the disparity.

Because each family has unique dynamics, working with an estate planning attorney ensures that you have a tailored plan that will accomplish your goals. Do not delay; even single people and parents of small children can benefit from having an estate plan in place to protect their loved ones.

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