Ways for Siblings to Divide an Inheritance

Your mom used to say “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and “A stitch in time saves nine.” Nothing could be more true when it comes to dividing dividing the inheritance with your siblings.

Denis Oberg of Indianapolis is the youngest of three siblings. He and his sisters, Dian Kemper of Williston, North Dakota, and Doreen “Susie” Horstman, Berger, Missouri, are the children of late farmers Louis and Pauline Oberg. He shared with me the story of how they managed to divide their inheritance-fairly and without squabbling.

“Our parents had already set it up as a trust account, so each of the three siblings were names as trustees and each got a third,” he said in a telephone interview. “Then, what we did on the personal effects, we just worked together on that. The oldest got to pick first, then the second-oldest, then the youngest. … [For example], the kitchen tables and chairs, we’d had since we were kids, so we wanted to keep them in the family. Dian wanted them and she was the oldest, so she got them.”

Pauline Oberg was an avid quilter, and left several quilts behind. But how would the division of the quilts be fair? Denis Oberg reiterated that they went by birth order.

“The quilts were the perfect example,” he said. “Mom had fifteen quilts. So we got all the quilts and lay them out on the bed. … We just selected things by birth order.” He said it was important to realize that “not everybody’s going to get everything they want.”

Things were not so smooth when Oberg’s paternal uncle, Henry Oberg, died. Henry Oberg had not left a will, and the estate was the subject of much squabbling among the survivors. Eventually the debate led to a lengthy and contentious lawsuit. Oberg emphasized the importance of having a trust established.

“The parents should have a trust and spell out in the trust how it’s divided,” he said. “The rest of the stuff-household furnishings and knick-knacks … you can divide things into categories and go from there. … Really, if the parents do some work ahead of time, that will alleviate a lot of difficulties.”