Washington Post Article on Family Struggles in Dividing Up Assets

A recent Washington Post article discussed the lethal combination of family and finances. The author recounts how even the most close-knit families can be torn apart by disagreements about money matters. The article included one reader to wrote a letter offering an example of how his parent’s will is causing tension and turmoil.

The letter was written by an adult son who was asked by his parents to assist with their estate planning. He was named executor and helped with locating financial documents. The son saw a copy of the will after it was completed, noting that it left assets to a few charities and then split the remaining estate between himself and his one sibling–a sister. This represents a pretty common situation, with families assuming that such a simple estate plan and division will not come with any disagreement.

But then a few years later the parents updated their will. Instead of splitting the assets between their two children, they decided to split it in thirds. Their two teenage grandchildren (from their daughter) will receive a third, and the two adult children will each receive a third. The son noted with shock that his share suddenly went from one half to one third.

The son noted that he is confused and frustrated by the development. As a gay man with a long-term partner, he does not intend to have children. He noted that he was financially secure, and so the frustration is not bore by a need for the inheritance. However, he can’t help but feel penalized for his situation for no reason.

These sorts of tensions occur all the time. At times, the frustrated parties may not speak up when first learning about the situation, because they may not want to seem greedy or motivated by a desire to get a larger share. But the frustration can boil over after a passing, leading to will contests and permanent family drama.

There is no right or wrong answer to the decisions made in situations like the one described here. However, there are prudent steps that can be taken–no matter what the terms of the will–to lessen the chance of ruined relationships. For one thing, it may be worthwhile to bring in a neutral third party to manage the estate. Having a son act as executor in a situation where he feels resentful about the will is a recipe for disaster. Inviting a professional, perhaps an estate planning attorney, to handle the situation will ensure that even accusations of impropriety are nipped early on.

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