Tips On How To Handle Inheritance Issues With Siblings

In an ideal scenario, your parents would have devised a will and a comprehensive plan outlining the distribution of their assets after their passing.

However, the will might be incomplete or differ from the expectations of you and your siblings. In such cases, conflicts may arise when you and your siblings learn about the allocation of the inheritance.

It extends beyond financial matters. According to James Miller, a licensed psychotherapist and the host of the Lifeology radio show, “One of the most challenging aspects of dividing an inheritance is the emotional element.

When a parent passes away, each child will cope with their grief in their unique way.

Regrettably, this grief may manifest as resentment or hostility if someone disagrees with how the estate is distributed.

How to handle inheritance issues with siblings
Inheritance is the practice of receiving private property, titles, debts, entitlements, privileges, rights, and obligations upon the death of an individual: Photo source (Trust & Will)

How Is Property Divided Among Siblings?

Inherited property is usually distributed according to the deceased person’s will, with assets going to heirs.

Parents can decide how to divide their assets among their children, either equally or with specific instructions in a letter of instruction.

Note: Some property, like life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement funds, bypass wills and go directly to chosen beneficiaries.
If there’s no will or certain property is excluded, it’s considered intestate, and the probate court distributes the inheritance based on state law.

Intestate Succession

Intestate succession rules differ by state but generally involve distributing the estate to the surviving spouse, domestic partner, and children.

If none exist, assets usually go to parents, grandchildren, or siblings of the deceased.

Check your state laws for specifics.

Note: Grandchildren may inherit from the estate, even if there are living children.
If there’s no spouse and all the children of the deceased parent are alive, the estate is usually divided equally among them.

Reasons Siblings May Fight Over Inheritance

Despite a parent drafting a thorough and unambiguous will, dissatisfaction among their children regarding the distribution of assets is not uncommon.

Certain circumstances tend to provoke more tension than others. Effective communication plays a crucial role in the realm of estate planning.

Distribution of Inheritance

Siblings may fight over inheritance if they perceive an unfair distribution.

According to Emily Bouchard, a consultant at Ascent Private Capital Management, disputes often arise from unresolved feelings of favoritism.

She cited an example where a sibling, who managed a family business after the father’s stroke, faced resentment for perceived unequal distribution, even though the business was not their siblings’ involvement.

Surprises in the Will

If you don’t divide money equally among your children, provide clear explanations to avoid disputes.

Specify each child’s inheritance to prevent unnecessary arguments.

Misunderstandings can occur when promises are made to one child without informing others, leading to conflicts.

Additionally, siblings should communicate before claiming items promised to them individually.

Disagreements Over What To Do With Inherited Property

If you and your siblings jointly inherit land or a house from your parents, you might not agree on what to do with the property.

One person may want to sell it, and another might want to keep it.

The simplest solution is a buyout. One sibling can purchase the rest of the house from the others.

Note: Consider an installment plan with interest if an heir wishes to retain the property but can’t immediately pay siblings.
If no one is ready to live in the house, renting it out and sharing profits or having the sole occupant pay rent to siblings are options.
If disputes arise, explore state laws to protect against a forced sale (partition action). Keep legal conflicts as a last resort when dealing with siblings.

Tips for Handling Disagreements Among Siblings

Tips on how to handle inheritance issues with siblings
Image courtesy (Trust & Will)

With proper planning, parents can help head off inheritance disagreements among their children, but after a parent’s death, siblings will need to take steps to avoid or handle disputes themselves.

Have a Policy in Place

Establish a family inheritance conflict resolution policy within the estate plan to avoid challenges during periods of grief.

Drafted by a committee and approved by the entire family, this policy provides a standardized approach for resolving conflicts.

Seek Counseling

Bouchard said that when there is an argument over a family heirloom, it has more to do with unexpressed emotions from the past than money.

She recommended a family therapist get involved so that each sibling’s perspective is  “respected and understood.”

Involve a Third Party

In emotionally charged situations, Miller advises removing emotions from decision-making, acknowledging challenges in achieving this due to differing perceptions of fairness.

Suggests involving a neutral third party like an attorney or mediation for a more cost-effective, private, and low-pressure resolution to estate matters.

Taking Sibling Disputes to Court

If you’ve tried and failed to resolve inheritance issues outside of court, a last-resort solution is contesting the will.

To do so, you’ll need to present a valid reason. A will cannot be contested simply because it is unfair or even cruel.

Valid reasons can include proving that the testator was unduly influenced or lacked the capacity to sign a will.

Contesting a will in court can be a time-consuming and costly process, so consider carefully whether it’s worth pursuing.

Also, keep in mind that once the will reaches probate, you may have limited time to contest it.

Read more: Guide to sibling inheritance laws

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What type of lawyer handles money and inheritance issues with siblings?

Hire an estate planning and/or trust and probate litigation attorney for resolving inheritance disputes with siblings.

Who issues an inheritance check?

After probate, the executor or court-appointed representative inventories assets, settles debts, and then distributes the inheritance to beneficiaries.

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