My Sibling Warfare post on June 28th, together with last week’s post on unequal inheritances, have really struck a nerve. Not surprisingly, many families are struggling with sibling conflict. The feedback I’ve received has been so informative that I’ll share some highlights with you.
The five stories of family feuds in my June 28 post created quite a stir. WealthManagment.com picked up the article and published an edited version here entitled “Five Famous Families Undermined by Sibling Conflict.”
Those five examples illustrate what can happen when sibling rivalry grows into fighting of epic proportions. Although those five families are all mega wealthy, I’m reminded that family infighting is not limited to the ultra-rich. In the feedback, I learned stories of sibling strife in families of moderate means that are equally toxic.
Several stories involved leaving the family home to only one of the kids, for reasons that appeared fair to the parents, yet the news was not well-received by the other kids. Part of the distress was related to financial disparity of the inheritances but much more was due to hurt feelings. In these stories, the prevailing view was for the parents to do their best to explain their reasons, and even if there’s no buy-in from all the children, at least there were no surprises when the Will was read.
Other stories I received involve family businesses left unequally to the kids. Again, the parents had valid reasons for the unequal division, such as leaving more to those active in the business and attempting to make up the difference by leaving other assets to those not active in the business. In one extreme case, the entire business (considered the family’s premier asset) went to one kid and real estate (of much lower value) to the other kid. The one getting the real estate felt slighted, but watch what happened. Fast forward years later and the business was bankrupt while the real estate soared in value.
One mother shared with me an ongoing internal debate over her plan to leave the estate equally to her four children in an effort to preserve family harmony but was concerned about one child being of much lesser means. The mother held a heart-to-heart family meeting to explain her intentions and seek a moral commitment from the children to be there for each other and use the inheritance to support a sibling, if ever needed.
Yet another story involved two siblings, one very responsible and the other terribly irresponsible. Their parents left both halves of the inheritance to identical restrictive trusts in an effort to protect the irresponsible one. The result was that the responsible sibling felt punished for their sibling’s irresponsibleness.
These are all heart-wrenching, real-life examples reminding us there are no perfect answers. As an advisor stressed to me, an estate plan should not be set in stone, as adjustments may be necessary as life unfolds. Estate planning is an art, not a science. Estate planning advisors have a unique perspective and can offer valuable guidance in helping parents address these thorny issues.
In next week’s post, I’ll share some of the valuable insights I received on this topic from life insurance, financial, life coach, and trust advisors. Stay tuned.
Marvin E. Blum
Two of Marvin Blum’s five grandkids, sweet siblings Lucy Blum (age 3) and Grey Blum (age 1). The Blum family mission is to keep this loving sibling connection going strong throughout their lives and keep pouring down the love to future generations.