Sibling rivalry is common, but add to the mix the death of parents and a sizeable estate and you have a recipe for the destruction of family relationships. The baby boomer generation is very susceptible to this problem. Typically, their parents grew up in the Depression era and were good savers, unlike the baby boomers. Those baby boomers who have managed to save have seen their nest eggs eroded through financial market crises, redundancy and divorce. Little wonder then, that many rely on receiving an inheritance to fund their retirement. When there is a large sum at stake, family love can turn to family hatred.
Parents often don’t think through the effect of the provisions of their will on surviving children. A parent may feel inclined to favour one child over another in the will for a variety of reasons. The favoured child may be one who has cared for the parent in their final years, or who is more in need of financial assistance or more responsible with money. Further complications can arise when children from two different relationships are not treated equitably.
Avoiding conflict requires careful thinking, planning and communication. Parents are often secretive about the contents of their will and so the contents come as a surprise. This can be overcome by explanations given to the children while the parents are still alive, or by parents documenting the reasons for how the property (money and possessions) is to be divided. The choice of the executor of a will is critical and ideally children need to be told who the executor is and why they have been chosen. Children can help by ensuring they make their own financial plans so they are not in the awful position of waiting for their parents to die so they can retire.