9/21/2011 4:57 PM ET|
How to avoid fights over Mom's stuff
When a parent dies and the children are faced with dividing up the possessions, things can get ugly. But by taking certain steps, the survivors can avoid family warfare.
Most people who die leave behind stuff. And many, if not most, families wind up fighting over that stuff.
Julie Hall, otherwise known as "the Estate Lady," says sibling battles over parental possessions have broken out in more than 80% of the estates she has liquidated.
"People will tell me, 'Oh, that will never happen in our family. Our children are so close, there aren't going to be any problems,'" said Hall, who blogs at The Estate Lady Speaks and has written several books on clearing out an estate, including "How to Divide Your Family's Estate and Heirlooms Peacefully & Sensibly." "I smile and say, 'That's so nice,' but I know that after (the person dies) they will fight over the craziest things."
I would love to say our family didn't join those ranks when my father died two years ago. But one of the few things I wanted from Dad's estate -- the military medals of his brother, who was killed in action in Korea -- was something my brother wanted as well.
We wound up dividing them, but there was a pretty fierce tug of war there for a while. And that's too bad, because the last thing our parents would have wanted is for us to fight over stuff.
"Post-death family feuds are terrible," said Los Angeles estate planning attorney Jon Gallo, who with his psychotherapist wife, Elaine Gallo, runs Gallo Consulting to help families navigate this rocky terrain. Such battles can make a traumatic time even more stressful, he said, even leading to lifelong rifts.
Things can really get ugly if parents treat children unequally, Gallo said, or if a particular item stirs strong emotions for more than one person.
"Usually it's something that's a reminder of their childhood," said Jon Gallo, who has co-authored several books with his wife, including "Silver Spoon Kids" and "The Financially Intelligent Parent." "There's a deep psychological connection."
Pretty soon, siblings descend into the "Mom always liked you best!" or "You always got your way!" squabbles that punctuated their childhoods. Maturity, reasonableness and rationality can fly out the window. In the worst situations, siblings may steal items from the estate or bully another heir into giving up a cherished item, causing hard feelings all around.
There are some ways, however, that may head off warfare within the family:
1. Get the parents to decide.
In an ideal world, Hall said, the parents would decide who gets what in a financially equitable way. The kids may not like the parents' decisions, but they're more likely to accept them -- and less likely to end up hating each other -- if they don't have to work out a distribution plan themselves, she said.
Hall is a big fan of parents asking their kids in advance what items they might want -- with no guarantees that asking means getting. Items of value should be appraised, and then the parents can draw up a list that ensures each sibling receives roughly the same dollar value of stuff.
If parents do treat children unequally, they'd be smart to leave behind a written or videotaped explanation of why, Gallo said.
"We encourage people to talk to their kids as well, but . . . people hear what they want to hear," said Gallo, who offers to record on video special interviews with clients so their heirs can better understand their wishes. The videos can be played after death so there's no question about what the parents wanted.
"The parents can say, 'George, we know you wanted the such and such, but we've decided to give it to Mary. She didn't influence our decision in any way, and we want you to know that and accept our decision," Gallo said. "Or 'Pete, we've helped you out in the past, and now we're giving more to Paul because he has health problems.'"
2. If the parents do leave it up to the kids to divide the stuff, there should be a stick along with all the carrots.
For example, the parents could state in their wills that if the kids are in charge of dividing up the household goods but can't agree on who should get an item, that item is given to charity, Gallo said.
Or it could be sold. "If everybody wants the grandfather clock, sell it and divide the proceeds," Hall counseled.
Some people are shocked at the idea of selling a family heirloom, Hall said, but she points out that such heirlooms can cause generation upon generation of trouble.
"When that person (who got the clock) dies, then there's a whole new uproar over who will get it and how it wasn't fair she got it in the first place," Hall said. "Get rid of it, split the money."
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The, "attorney", was my father's attorney for years. She turned on my father to get her fee from my former niece's mother! I think it was a conflict of interest. I have no doubt karma will get them all! I hope I live to see it :)
We are a family of six siblings...when my Dad was upstairs dying, my middle sister's husband was at the bank clearing out his checking account...my oldest sister was the executor of the will and had taken great care of my dad for four years prior to my dad living with the sister who ripped off the family. My eldest sister tried very hard to do the right thing, but this one particular sister blocked her at every opportunity...My sister D and her husband were cleaning out my dad's account even before he passed away...On the day dad died, my oldest sister came over with $17,000.00 of Savings Bonds my dad had signed and gave them to my middle sister telling her to put them in the checking account and later they would transfer it to the bigger account...I was there when my middle sister told her she would do it...Needless-to-say she did not. She put the money in her own checking account...When my oldest sister went over there two weeks later to reconcile the accounts, my middle sister started screaming at her telling her it was her money...This sister also conned my step mom out of my Dad's car (my stepmom is another story of taking my dads estate and giving it all to her two kids)....
We figure my middle sister took about $50,000.00 and to this day 4 of us siblings don't talk to her...She and her husband are greedy people who prey on older people and take what they have...This isn't the first time she's done this...when my mom had a heart attack a few years after Dad died, she went down to Florida acting like she was there to help my mom. Instead, she wiped my mom out financially and mentally. The only thing my mom had left was her house, which my sister was ready to sell. Luckily,my mom got out of the nursing home with the help of her attorney and saw what my sister was doing...My sister and her creepy husband also conned my mom out of her coins she had been saving for 60 years (she had some worth a small fortune)...She kept telling my mom she had brain bamage, was dying and never coming out of the nursing home. She told my mom that someone stole half of coins (accusing me and other people) She said her husband would love to have the remainder of the coins..(The coins were never stolen, it was a blatent lie.) My mom being drugged and thinking she was dying gave the coins to my sister and her husband. My sister did alot of other things regarding my mom's estate when she was in Florida.
This same sister also took all of my dad's coins and did not share them with the rest of the siblings....This same sister lives in a $700,000.00 house and her husband drives a tow truck for a living and she does not work outside the home....what does that tell you..
Her husband has bragged in the past about how he rips old women off when their vehicles break down...he cons them into selling their vehicle and then resells a junker to them that he's paid nother for and so-called fixed up. He did that to one of my sister's son's once..He gave him money for a car and the car broke down within 15 minutes after he purchased it.. My brother-in-law refused to give the money back to my sister who purchased it.
Unfortunately there are alot of people out there like that....I'm ashamed to say she is my sister.
They even ripped off a few cousins after my Aunt died....
THERE IS A PLACE IN HELL FOR THESE PEOPLE...I really hope so...k
We are a family of 4 siblings. Both parents are now deceased. The oldest sister handled most of Mama & Daddy's personal finance, insurance, etc., and kept the other 3 of us informed of what was being done as well as keeping records of same. She always made sure we were aware of the state of our parents affairs. Everything went smooth as silk from beginning to end. We suffered no arguments, or disagreements and my sisters and I are closer than ever. After Mama's funeral, my sister handed me Mama's wedding rings (I always thought they were beautiful) and said: "Mama said to be sure you got these rings".
Families don't realize how much effort is involved in caring for aging parents, and rarely appreciate the ones that do it. Our older sister is a rare fine, and thankfully, we know how lucky we are to have her.
Our Mother has not passed yet, but a few months ago, my sibling moved into Moms home and sold all of Mothers "Stuff", antiques, collectables, etc, everything but the priceless Art on the walls. Then, she used the money to update the home, paint and landscape which needed to be done, but without Mothers permission or agreement.. So my point is..............there will be no feud, our other sibling will just go into Moms home with large black plastic bags, collect and dispose of anything else that may remain as Moms personal items, cloths, etc. That is what she did when our Father passed away, everything was thrown into a black plastic bag and placed curbside, Oh....except what was valuable....those items went directly into her trunk......................Not a lot of love in this family, just selfish, unloving "children" ( At first I wrote another description of my siblings, but it was not very polite, yet is was an accurate description of my sisters!)
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