Parents would like to think that their adult children will be able to settle the family estate without any conflict. It’s natural for parents to give their kids the benefit of the doubt, but it’s just not true. Grief, loss, and stress are often catalysts for tensions among family members. Settling or managing a parent’s estate definitely qualifies.
The following topics are potential friction points for siblings. Each is something for estate planning parents to consider, regardless of how well their kids may get along at the present moment. Hopefully it will be a motivating factor to encourage parents to do estate planning rather than leaving the burden to their children after their passing. Siblings should anticipate these potential pitfalls so they know better how to avoid them.
Who the Executor/Trustee Should Be
An executor is responsible for making sure the instructions in a will are carried out. The responsibility does not become official until the testator dies.
A trustee, on the other hand, is responsible for managing the trust. The responsibility becomes official when the trust indicates it should. In other words, the trustee could exercise authority before the owner of the trust passes away, if the trust is written that way.
If it’s not specified in the will, conflict could emerge in court when a judge makes a determination during probate. If it is specified, but the executor acts independently, as though they control the entire estate, conflict may emerge when siblings dispute a decision the executor makes.
Guardianship of an Incapacitated Parent
Parent-child role reversals are difficult for everyone. Difficulties become exacerbated when siblings argue over who will act as the guardian for an incapacitated parent. If the parent didn’t express their wishes in a will or trust, siblings are left to battle it out with each other. Arguments center around who lives closer, who is most financially capable, and (sadly) who wants access to the estate.
Parent’s Power of Attorney (POA)
When a parent executes a Power of Attorney (POA) that goes into effect while they are still living, siblings who were not designated as the POA may argue decisions being made on behalf of their parent. It could be that the designated POA is seen by siblings to be misusing funds, leading to a sibling feud and tensions throughout the family.
Similarly, if parents do not have a Power of Attorney declaring their preference as to who will manage their financial affairs should they become unable to do so, then siblings are left to fight it out amongst themselves.
Even with a will or trust in place, arguments may emerge surrounding how to divide the estate. Unless the will indicates otherwise, it may be necessary for the executor to sell the family home and distribute the money to beneficiaries. Other siblings may not want to sell the house if it holds special memories for them. They could choose to purchase the home from the other beneficiaries, but if they cannot afford to do so, the conflict continues. The law, however, favors the executor, assuming that individual is adhering to the will or trust of the deceased.
Similar disagreements surface around specific belongings, heirlooms, or valuable items. Whether it’s great grandma’s wedding ring, dad’s belt buckle, or an antique piece of furniture, it could become the source of a dispute if the will/trust does not specify who should receive it.
Changes in the Will
Perhaps the most common quarrel in which we see siblings engaged centers around changes in the will that occur when an elderly parent lives with one of the siblings at the end of their life. Others were aware of the instructions in the original will, but when they get to probate they find out the will was changed while the parent was living with the sibling, usually to the greater benefit of said sibling. At that point, it’s not uncommon for siblings to contest a will. In that case, a judge will determine if the most recent will was the result of manipulation or the deceased’s last wishes.
In short, having explicit instructions about your end of life care as part of your estate planning process could prevent sibling arguments in the future. You’ve been breaking up fights with your kids their entire lives, why stop now? Call Lovelace Law P.C. to schedule an appointment with an estate lawyer in Burleson or Fort Worth.