A good way to think about an inheritance is to assume you’re getting nothing. After all, it is someone else’s money. That way, when you do receive an inheritance, it’s a blessing. But try telling that to siblings who feel entitled to their parents’ assets, especially if they failed to plan for their own retirements.
And to an extent, their feelings are understandable, especially if the parents contributed to their unrealistic expectations. The good news is, there are things you can do to help avoid this acrimony, especially if you first understand three common reasons siblings fight over an inheritance.
One way to guarantee dispute and confusion is to die without a will. When you don’t have a will, your estate goes go through probate, which means a court will supervise the division of assets. A court is not going to be as good at discerning your wishes as your own will would be, and a drawn-out process invites squabbling. So, have a will prepared, update it regularly, and discuss at least your general intentions with your children to avoid uncertainty after you pass. Additionally, people you intend to disinherit should be specifically listed as disinherited in your will to avoid ambiguity.
An obvious reason siblings fight over an inheritance is inequality, both in the distribution of assets and in control over the estate. In terms of assets, experts recommend dividing the estate equally among your children to help avoid resentment. Even if there are beneficiaries other than your children, consider making your children’s shares as equal as possible.
Equality also applies to the control you grant over your estate. A few options are to name your children as co-executors, or your surviving spouse or other person as sole-executor. If you wish to name just one child as the sole-executor, explain your reason for doing so (for example, your daughter’s a lawyer, or your son’s an accountant).
Another source of discord is the posthumous surprise. Whether its unexpected beneficiaries like a random third cousin or the church, a smaller estate than anticipated, certain bequests, or even a disinheritance, surprises can cause hurt feelings, in-fighting, and legal disputes among siblings. While beneficiaries shouldn’t make assumptions about what they might receive (we all know what assuming does), a benefactor can help minimize these conflicts by setting realistic expectations and discussing their intentions regarding money, assets, and items with sentimental value.
Leaving an inheritance can be a generous, thoughtful way to take care of your loved ones after you pass on. Help minimize those sibling squabbles with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney can also help if you need to defend or contest an inheritance.