Ways for Siblings to Divide an Inheritance

A focus on different ways siblings might divide an inheritance.

The death of a parent ranks among the top 20 of life’s major stressors; add this to the estimate that 91.9% of the population may not receive any inheritance , with the exception for their parent’s personnel possessions. Because a parent’s personal possessions usually hold little if any economic value in the hearts of their children they may be priceless. Theses items hold memories in the minds and hearts of the siblings and after the death of one or both parents these memories grow even more precious. When bereaving children must be the decision makers in dividing these items, these memories, grief and unresolved childhood issues because some siblings to lash out at other family members causing feuds that last for generations and divide the family along with it. When children lose a parent that parent would not want their children to fight but rather be able to come together to offer support and comfort to each other in their grief

Families avoid discussions death because they are not comfortable with the subject. But because death is an inevitable fact of life, it must be discussed simply for the peace of mind that can come from planning and having it all taken care of in advance. Survivors in the grieving period usually are not good decision makers and after the initial shock has passed bad decisions may have lead to big problems later. It is the responsibility of the parent to anticipate this and involve their children in the discussions regarding these matters. These discussions and planning sessions will actually help the children be better equipped to deal with the parent’s death makes and will make siblings more aware and understanding of their parent’s decisions and wishes. When everything is in place siblings will be able to focus on their own families and on their siblings through this time and which will in the long run make keeping the family peace much easier.

Advance information of what to expect also gives the siblings some time to come to terms with what they may or may not be receiving from their parent’s estate. Sometimes when the parent’s decision differs from what the child is expecting there is a grief stage the child will need to go through over the lose. If the sibling realizes years in advance that they won’t be receiving cousin Mary flower vase when they are 35 and their parent does not pass for many more years are better able to adjust then those who for all those years felt already as if the item was theirs. Decisions made in this way also allow time for negotiation among the siblings when the death of their parent is looming over them. During the grief period thinking can become distorted.

It is not unheard of that disagreements between siblings after a parent’s death can become very childish, as if the adult sibling has reverted to the child sibling with rivalry and childhood disagreements forming the basis of the current disagreement. Small issues can be blown in to feuds between siblings that last until one or the other dies. Often times leaving the other siblings in the middle which in turn causes resent on their part. Family members have a tendency to treat each other worse then they would treat a stranger. Therefore siblings fighting over a deceased parent items is almost to be expected. Such is the story of two siblings who both felt they had been promised a grandfather clock; as one of the siblings was carrying the clock out of the house the other sibling attacked the one carrying the clock causing the one carrying the clock to drop it and the clock shattering in pieces. In other cases siblings have entered the parent’s home and taken any and everything they felt they wanted. Trust must be one of a family’s core values so when siblings take these types of actions they cause a permanent breakdown of trust within the family. Another problem can be with family dynamics, if one sibling is manipulating and used to getting their own way within the family, they will now not be satisfied until they have everything they want. They will not care that other siblings are left with nothing to remember their parents by. The worst part about this type of personality is that the manipulative and overbearing sibling even after acquiring the majority of the parent’s possessions will not be happy with their bounty. They may even, rather then offer to their other siblings, sell it or throw it away. Just because they can. In a family situation such as this, if the parent’s allowed this type of behavior to occur then the other children may actually be glad to be done with it all, and maybe really didn’t want any memories as they were all bad anyway.

The best of all solutions is when siblings show respect and love toward each other and they work together as a team to develop solutions or compromises that allow siblings to leave with the solutions and not feel pressured or bullied. This way not only do siblings feel better toward each but this type of atmosphere is most conducive to healing after the lose of a parent. So even if the death of a parent and the problem of dividing up the deceased worldly possessions is not the ideal arena for working through lingering childhood issues, if the family is caring and supportive of each other then they understand what feelings and pain the other sibling is going through and the experience will actually strengthen the family bond.

So in the perfect situation all arrangements would be made in advance, all siblings and other family members would be aware of the arrangements and all would be in total agreement. But since this is not a perfect world, many siblings are left on their own and together have formed some very creative solutions for dealing with the death and aftermath of one or both of their parents and how they split the estate among themselves.

Some of the solutions that families have used include a type of “Auction”. Just as every family is different there are many different type of Auctions. Some auctions are called “Sentimental Auctions” due to the sentimental value of the items up for bid. In a Sentimental auction siblings are given a certain amount of sentimental (fake) money in which they can use to bid on items they want. In addition some families have chosen a Sentimental Auction, but have requested that the auction be one of silent or secret bids. This requires a third party to gather the bids and announce the winner of the auction. Some families feel that by using the silent bid other siblings will not be offended or upset by the amount of bids on items, and in other families (due to trust issues) they use the secret bid to protect themselves from others knowing how much they bid and then outbidding them just to spite them.
In another family’s version of the Auction, the items to be distributed have been professionally appraised. After the appraisal siblings make bids with legal currency. These bids can be open or secret either depending on the siblings wishes. When the auction is complete the items bought are either paid for by the sibling personally or the bid amount is deducted out of that sibling’s portion of a monetary inheritance.

In some auctions, due to distances between siblings, the Internet has also been used for bidding. One site, WebEx, was referenced as virtual conference room that met the needs of families in the bidding exchange.

Other methods that have been used include a “Round Robin” distribution. This type of distribution as with the auction also has many different deviations; one including drawing straws to see who gets to go first with going first meaning either in one room of the house or through out the total house. Depending on the choice made either with the longest or shortest straw being the winning straw, the sibling gets the chance to go first and may choose one item they would like. This “Round Robin” type of distribution continues until all the siblings have had a chance to participate and continues until room or house is empty. In the case of doing the drawing room by room family members switch off until each sibling has had a chance to go first in each room.

Some distributions start while the parent is still living; siblings are allowed to tag items (usually stickers with the sibling’s name on it) within the parent’s house during their visits. This is very helpful if for instance the item is wanted by more than one sibling. The siblings can present their reasoning to the other and/or the parent, and then if the siblings can not work it out among themselves the parent makes the final decision. In tagging it is important that the item and future recipient also be recorded elsewhere, as in a list. It is not uncommon for a sibling to see a tag on an item that they had their heart set on and removing the tag and replacing it with another with their name on it. I personally have also seen smaller visiting children (3-4 years) have a wonderful time rearranging the tags. Also over time the stickiness of the tag depletes and the tag simply falls off, only to be vacuumed up or lost. For these reasons a listing prepared in addition to the tagging can be very helpful.

Another method of distribution revolves around an item that one or more sibling wants and no compromise can be had. In this case sometimes the siblings agree to share “joint-custody” of the item. Some items are held so dear that all siblings regardless of the number have “joint-custody”. It seems a bit strange that if it is possible to live without the item while it is visiting another sibling’s house, couldn’t the sibling who let it go to visit just give it to the other one? Otherwise unless the siblings live close enough together the item spends a lot of time in shipping. Items that are shipped are at the mercy of the shippers, wouldn’t it make more sense just to give it up rather than risk damage by a careless shipper?

Another method used by families who for what ever reasons are unable to come to a consensus or compromise is to sell everything and split the money. These families probably don’t have very many fond childhood memories as it appears that cash is all that matters in these cases.

All the methods presented above basically assumed that the items would be divided fairly and equally. But in some families using these methods would not at all be fair or equal. What about the parent that for the last few years has lived with one sibling and that sibling has cared and tended to the parent’s medical needs that total time. If the siblings are agreeable (hopefully most are) then it would stand to reason that that sibling would be entitled to a larger portion of the estate or in the case of items of nonmonetary value their choice of an additional amount of items. Another scenario would be a family business in which one or more of the siblings has worked in the business for varying lengths of time while the other siblings did not. Would it not be fair that the siblings who worked and helped build the business be given the choice to purchase the business from the remaining siblings? In this scenario it would seem logical that those siblings who had not helped in the business and did not contribute to the business’s growth be given amount not equal to those who had helped the business. Logically this would make sense, but families in a grieving period are hardly logical.

So the fact remains that regardless the method used our how the decision is made. Preplanning is the key to preparing siblings to be ready when they lose one or both parents not to put there fists up and come in swinging but rather have their arms open in respect and love for one another.

All too often the siblings appear sorrowful, but in reality they are really trying to figure out how to get dad’s beer mug collection out to their car before the other siblings catch them. It’s a shame that some children who barely gave their parent or parents the time of day cannot even wait until the body is cold before they swarm on those same parent’s possessions, these siblings are like tornados that sweep through damaging as they see fit, taking what they feel they deserve or sometimes simply out of spite because they know that one of their other siblings really loved the item. After the storm has pasted and the dust has cleared it’s apparent that indeed the self-centered sibling has snagged the prize, but what isn’t so readily seen is how much more they really lost in terms of respect, trust, friendship and in the most extreme cases a family’s love. These types of people are to be pitied, because only with true sharing regardless of worth can one be happy.