The loss of a parent is one of the most challenging situations that people experience in their lifetime. During this time, while individuals are navigating grief and attempting to divide family assets fairly amongst surviving family members, it’s common for disputes to arise. However, it's important to remember that despite the challenges, it's possible to come to a resolution that satisfies everyone involved. At Cadence, we understand the complexity of such cases and have gathered useful tips about how to resolve issues, and tools to prevent them in the future.
There are several reasons why sibling disputes can arise during the estate settlement process. Factors such as large families, blended families, multiple marriages of a parent, and a general history of precarious family relationships can all lead to increased tension regarding who should be entitled to assets (How to Avoid the Dreaded Family Estate Battle, n.d.). Siblings may also face disagreements when it comes to unassigned family heirlooms that were not included in the will (5 Tips for Resolving an Sibling Estate Battle, n.d.). Without designation, it becomes easy to fight over items that share sentimental value, such as dad’s record collection or mom’s jewelry.
Finances are one of the most significant sources of estate settlement-related conflict. The desire for an inheritance can vary depending on each sibling’s financial need, and its amount can heighten emotions and influence arguments (Woodruff, 2020). If parents held land ownership or enterprises in their name, the choice to share proprietorship or sell assets could likely become a difficult conversation, especially if only one individual can obtain a transfer of ownership. To avoid permanent damage to familial relationships, it’s important that siblings approach these delicate situations in a calm and respectful manner.
The key to resolving disputes is to approach the situation with an open mind and to understand that all siblings are dealing with grief, which can make their reactions more sensitive to others’ thoughts, feelings, and words (5 Tips for Resolving an Sibling Estate Battle, n.d.). With limited options for finance dispersion or the receival of heirlooms, there is potential that not everyone will be entirely satisfied with the end result. Keeping this in mind, it is important for siblings to approach conflict in a way that validates the opinions of all parties and seek to find the most equitable resolution, rather than one that is only self beneficial.
If there are items that haven't been designated among siblings, create a fair division strategy (Weltman, 2023). This can be achieved by gathering all items that can be divided, then choosing items one by one in an ordered fashion. To avoid conflict between the choosing order, or if there is worry of exploitation, an alternative would be using a lottery system that is orchestrated by an unbiased third party. With both of these options, it’s important for siblings to agree on rules ahead of time. Limiting interference of spouses, partners, or children will also help avoid any further disputes (Woodruff, 2020).
It's essential to be honest, forthright, and respectful with your desires throughout estate settlement, especially in the early stages (5 Tips for Resolving an Sibling Estate Battle, n.d.). By openly communicating what items hold a special significance to you, you can help your siblings understand the sentimental value of certain possessions and avoid conflicts over who should receive them. It is important that any specific requests regarding asset division or finances are voiced unambiguously to avoid misunderstandings down the line. While honesty may not solve every dispute, it can go a long way in identifying common ground and finding solutions that all siblings agree on.
When disputes with siblings begin to escalate and compromise seems impossible, hiring a mediator can be a wise decision. A mediator is an unbiased third party who can facilitate open communication between family members and help find equitable and legally binding solutions based on siblings' mutual interests (5 Tips for Resolving a Sibling Estate Battle, n.d.). By bringing in a professional mediator, families showcase a willingness for a peaceful resolution and can depersonalize potentially explosive conflicts. Overall, mediation can help avoid lengthy battles while preserving family relationships that might otherwise be damaged.
Once disputes have subsided and assets have been accounted for, families are ready to continue settling the estate. Cadence understands that grief is hard enough, especially with the weight of conflict between siblings. That’s why we have created the Executor Assistant, a powerful tool for easing the estate settlement process. With user-friendly functionality, personalized roadmaps, and the ability to streamline tedious tasks, executors can focus on what truly matters. Through a clear outline of responsibilities, and certified guidance with every step, the executor assistant provides the support required to finalize the estate settlement process.
Preventing sibling conflict during estate settlement begins with planning ahead. When parents clearly outline their wishes in a will and maintain an evolving estate plan, future disputes are minimized after their passing. Although it is a difficult conversation, all family members should openly discuss which assets or heirlooms they would like to inherit when the time comes (Woodruff, 2020). By doing this, all parties will know what to expect, and shock from unfavorable surprises can be avoided all-together.
Involving a financial planner or other professional estate management services can prove to be beneficial in the long run (Woodruff, 2020). Cadence's Legacy Planner is an invaluable tool for parents who want to ensure that their estate is organized and their wishes for asset division are clear. The user-friendly software helps parents plan ahead by allowing them to make the decisions about who will receive their assets and heirlooms, removing the burden from their children. The program is designed to grow with you and can be updated throughout your life to ensure that everything is organized and up-to-date when the time comes. By utilizing the Legacy Planner, families can avoid conflicts over inheritance and focus instead on celebrating the memory of their loved one.
Estate settlement, coupled with the grief of losing a parent, is a severely difficult and emotional time for siblings. With the added stress of conflict and the potential for strained relationships, these times can quickly begin to feel overwhelming. However, it's possible to come to an effective resolution if you approach the situation with candor, communication, and mediation if conflicts escalate. By adopting these practices and encouraging parents to create an estate plan ahead of time, siblings can work together to honor their parent’s wishes while maintaining healthy relationships amongst each other for years to come.
Do you know someone who has recently lost a loved one? Cadence’s Executor Assistant provides next of kin a customized roadmap to settling their loved one’s estate so they can spend more time grieving and healing. Reach out to a Cadence representative today to begin easing the end-of-life process.
5 Tips for Resolving an Sibling Estate Battle. (n.d.). Trust & Will. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://trustandwill.com/learn/tips-for-resolving-estate-battles How to Avoid the Dreaded Family Estate Battle. (n.d.). Trust & Will. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://trustandwill.com/learn/how-to-avoid-family-estate-battle Weltman, B. (2023, April 30). Tips to Help Siblings Avoid a Costly Estate Battle. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/wealth-management/022916/tips-help-siblings-resolve-estate-battle.asp Woodruff, L. (2020, May 13). Tips for Dividing Assets and Estates Between Siblings. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2020/dividing-assets-between-siblings.html#