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Caring For Generations

When Sibling Rivalry Meets Estate Planning, It Can Be Complicated

by | Apr 17, 2024 | estate administration, estate and tax planning, Estate Planning, estate planning documents, succession planning


Siblings Day, observed in the U.S. just one week ago today, is known as Brothers and Sisters Day in Europe. The observance is meant to honor the relationship of brothers and sisters of all ages. Our Geyer blog post today focuses on the complexities of estate planning when there are  adult children with different needs at play…

Well into adulthood, the American Psychological Association notes, siblings keep influencing one another’s mental health and well-being. Warm sibling relationships are a source of material and emotional support, while fraught sibling relationships are associated with a host of negative outcomes. “Older adults who reported more sibling conflict and parental favoritism in adulthood were more likely to experience depression, anxiety, hostility, and loneliness.”

“Sibling disputes often erupt after a parent dies, and these fights can result in lengthy and expensive legal actions,” Barbara Weltman writes in Investopedia..”A little forethought from parents can avoid such disputes,” Weltman believes, suggesting that parents make gifts during their lifetime, and set up trusts. There is no rule on disinheriting a child,” she observes, but, to avoid legal challenges by a disinherited child, a parent should consider discussing the matter with the child or explaining the reasoning in the will. Using a non-sibling executor or trustee, a third party who does not stand to gain from any decisions about property distributions, is also a good idea, Wellman suggests.

How much of parents’ estate plan they share with their adult children may depend on family dynamics, Sarah O’Brien observes in CNBC’s Advisor Insight. There are several reasons it might be better to be open about planned inheritances:

  • Adult children can factor an anticipated inheritance into their own financial planning.
  • If one sibling has special needs, it may be wise to alert the self-sufficient siblings that a sizable portion of the estate will be directed towards the special needs sibling.

Our estate planning attorneys at Geyer Law agree. Starting conversations with adult children early definitely smooths the transition of wealth, and we try, whenever possible, to bring together family members of different generations to share values and wealth transfer goals. While having all the adult children involved in the discussion may not eliminate the possibility of sibling resentment, it diminishes the likelihood of legal disputes after parents have died.

Using the insights we have gained from decades of helping Indiana families deal with estate planning decisions, we encourage parents to openly share with their adult children the values and assumptions that have gone into their estate planning choices.

– by Kristina Shover, Associate Attorney with Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates