The ugly truth is, when parents pass away, siblings tend to fight over their inheritances for years. Just look at the family of Jimi Hendrix. The legendary guitarist passed away, without a will, in 1970, leaving his estimated $80 million estate to his father, Al Hendrix. When Al Hendrix died in 2002, the entire estate was left to his adopted stepdaughter, while Jimi Hendrix’s brother, Leon, was left with nothing. It is not a surprise that Leon Hendrix soon filed a lawsuit challenging the inheritance. Diffusing sibling rivalry in estate planning can be tricky, but in the end, it is well worth the effort. The size of the estate rarely matters when it comes to siblings fighting over a parent’s estate. Regardless, these battles can be avoided if the right steps are taken in estate planning.
Avoid surprises by disclosing your intentions now
One of the most common triggers of a family fight over inheritance is an unpleasant surprise – in other words, someone not getting what they expected. Whether it is one sibling getting a smaller share than another, or one sibling be left out altogether, the disappointment, anger and hurt feelings will inevitably lead to a court battle. The easiest way to void this problem is to make your decisions regarding your estate known to your family while you are alive. That way, you will have the opportunity to explain your decisions in a way that may go a long way to diffusing misunderstanding among siblings. Remember, though, that your children do not need to agree with your choices, as these decisions are only yours to make. But, if everyone is aware of your decisions, and understands that you made them after serious consideration, not in anger or by mistake, then the disappointment may be prevented.
Revise your estate plan as needed
Common advice in estate planning is to update your estate planning documents whenever you have a major life change. This practice can also avoid inadvertently leaving someone out. If you don’t revise your estate planning documents periodically, they likely won’t reflect your current wishes. Your continued involvement in your estate plan can also go a long way toward heading off suspicions that you may have been influenced by someone else, which is a common argument made by disappointed siblings.
Leave specific instructions regarding items of known sentimental value
Vague instructions regarding personal belongings, such as distributing them “in equal shares,” or allowing siblings to decide who gets what, will undoubtedly result in sibling rivalry. Your children will truly benefit from some guidance. You can also find out what your children may prefer to inherit. It is more helpful to find out what items your children actually care about and which ones they really don’t want. You may be surprised yourself.
If you have questions regarding sibling rivalry, or any other estate planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.