Good Intentions Could Lead to Family Feuds

by : Angie Epting Morris

Let’s say Mrs. Thomas has four daughters: Sally, Jane, Beth and Ann. Twenty years after the girls have all left home and married, Mama decides to take care of estate matters and begins to designate certain items to go to her individual daughters, with the well-meaning purpose of preventing arguments among them later. She designates an antique bed in the guest room for Sally and a special dresser of equal value for Jane (and so forth).

After Mrs. Thomas has passed away, the girls come together to settle the estate and divide up the furniture and household goods, etc. At some point in the process, Jane discovers that her mother has given “her" bed to Sally. Jane loved that bed and it was in her room all through the years when she was growing up. She is sure this must be a mistake. Sally is delighted because she loves the bed too and thinks it will be perfect for her daughter’s room. Since Sally’s daughter is the only “granddaughter", she is certain that is why Mama gave it to her . . .

Well, you know the rest of the story. It happens over and over, innocently, but feelings get hurt and resentments last a long time – often forever.

The problem was that Mama didn’t really remember that the bed had been in Jane’s room in earlier years. The girls had been away from home for more than twenty years, and she had turned that room into the guest room. She had come to think of that bed as just “the bed in the guest room." In this manner, Mama may actually have caused conflict instead of prevented it.

Here is a plan that might be helpful if you are approaching a move or planning to “downsize". Consider having all of your children come for a meal together without spouses and children. (NOTE: Most attorneys agree that 75% of the problems that arise during estate settlements are brought on by spouses and children of the heirs, not the immediate heirs themselves). During the meal, discuss the pending move and then announce that you wish to let some things go rather than move them all to the new but smaller dwelling. Ahead of time, mark the pieces that you are making available with a sticker. Then after the meal, have your children go through the house and put their initial on the sticker if they are interested in having an item. If more than one initial it, decide on a method for determining who gets it, (roll the dice, draw a card, flip a coin, etc.).

Since many go through this process of “downsizing" or moving to a new area later in life, this might be a good way to deal with the initial phase of this division process. Also, while going through itBusiness Management Articles, parents could see trouble spots among their children (heirs) that might be dealt with in order to help avoid problems later.