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 :)
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!)
The auction idea is a terrible idea. The person least able to make the highest bid is probably the person that needs it the most.
I knew a kid when we were in High School who had his Grandmother die.. While the funeral was going on, a son from out of town showed up with his family and a U-Haul and practically wiped the house clean and then took off...
I have also seen firsthand a fistfight on a frotn lawn over a lamp by 2 women...They both got bloody and the lamp got broken..Then the cops came and gave everyone their citations...
After the cops left they continued to fight over other things though NOT physically....
I'm the middle child in a family of girls. Many years ago I made the mistake of saying which items I would like to have after our parents are gone (3 or 4 specific items). Then a few years ago, my oldest sister made a remark about what I had said, making it sound like that was all I was going to get since I had named those items. Dad's already gone and when Mom goes, I know it's going to be a big mess. My younger sister and I are to be the executors for the estate, and I know it's going to be one big mess. We've already talked about it, and I told her if it got right down to it, the oldest could have everything since she'd be the one to have to live with her conscience. I agree with cheftostars241, and I'm afraid that's going to be the way with us.
That way everyone felt they were able to pick was was important to them. If one wanted to give up their pick to another that was fine too. No arguments, no hassle, just choose what you want. I was the oldest and actually gave my first pick to my daughter because she had always wanted mother's heirloom crystal.
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