Every family is complicated. In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to pretend like those complex emotions aren’t there. But when a parent passes away, we’re forced to confront them — and the results can be devastating.
That might sound bleak. But trust me when I say, I know what I’m talking about. Before I started Viive Planning, I worked for 10+ years as a litigation law clerk, where I got to see firsthand how the estate litigation process brings out the worst in people. Siblings who normally got along well, who respected and loved each other, were spending years locked in bitter court battles over some part of their inheritance.
What I found really fascinating about my estate litigation experience is that the amount of money didn’t matter. Families were willing to fight over $10,000 in the same way they would fight over $1 million.
What really mattered were all the feelings and thoughts that had gone unexpressed for so long. When siblings suddenly find themselves without one or both of their parents, the stress of coping with that loss can bring old dynamics, wounds, and conflicts to the fore.
Life can change in the blink of an eye
The loss of a loved one can turn your whole world upside down without any warning. As I like to say, grief & greed are a destructive cocktail of emotions.
Siblings can love each other one day, and the next find themselves fighting over something as insignificant as their parents’ basement couch. For the first time, they’re forced to navigate their emotional and financial lives without their parents — all while still grieving their loss.
So how can families prepare themselves to weather the storm of a parent’s loss, without losing the loving, harmonious relationships they share with one another?
Communication is key
As a society, we don’t like to talk about death and money. These taboo topics make us uncomfortable, so it feels better in the short term to just ignore them.
But by avoiding these conversations, we’re only opening our families up to resentment, jealousy, greed, and inevitably, litigation.
Entitlement is a tricky beast. Although you may feel that you know your children better than anyone, a degree of separation is formed between a parent and their child once that child lives independently, gets married, has kids of their own, buys their own home, and so on. What goes on in your child’s mind day in and day out becomes harder and harder to predict.
The only true way for you to know what your child expects for your aging process, as well as your end of life and after-death wishes, is to talk to them about it. Only you are in a position where you can clarify what your plans are, and to make sure that their expectations are aligned with yours.
Easier said than done, though. Discussing death, aging, and money are not typical family dinner conversations. But despite that discomfort, breaking down those conversational barriers is hugely important to your family’s legacy and future.
Starting the conversation
Below are just a few questions for you to start asking yourself before you begin sharing your wishes with your loved ones. These are some basic prompts that can help you get the ball rolling.
Ultimately, these conversations look different for every family, and there may be other questions that are valuable for you personally. We are happy to help you guide you through this process and share more important thought prompts. Be sure to reach out!
- What matters most to you as you get older? Is it time with family? Travel? Living in your home as long as possible? Moving to a retirement complex?
- Do you intend to treat your children equally or fairly in the distribution of the assets in your Last Will & Testament? Fair and equal can be separate, or one and the same. Just because you have 3 children, doesn’t necessarily mean that the fair thing to do would be split your estate evenly into 3; maybe some of those children have significantly less income than the others, or a disability, for example.
- What are your wishes for the end of your life? If you could choose where you die (home, hospital, or hospice), which would you choose?
- Which members of your family are most likely to support you as you age? Which ones have the potential to cause unneeded stress for you, other family members, or third-party service providers? Are there ways that you can support them through this planning process that would reduce this unneeded stress?
Pushing through discomfort
I can only imagine what the pain of losing a parent feels like. I know what it feels like to lose a grandparent and I watched my own parents deal with estates and their own siblings. I’ve watched families that I don’t know who have become clients battle with their siblings and lose relationships of their own, as well as relationships that their own children had with their aunts, uncles and cousins.
As hard as it is to have these conversations with yourself, your spouse, and your family, you need decide if avoiding those discussions is worth:
- Confusion and uncertainty in times of stress, illness and despair;
- Years of battling emotionally, financially, and legally;
- Your children losing the relationships that they were born into, that have been a part of the foundation of who they are, because of a disagreement about money
Every single person will have different responses to these questions and really, I would respect any response given. Some people are born into a family that is not loving, that does not support each other. Some people have never been close with their siblings and could honestly care less if they are in the future. That’s why everyone’s decision is different and needs to be respected.
But for those people who do have loving and respectful relationships with their siblings, the questions I posed above are important for you to think about.
Preserving the legacy
Who do you want to be at the end of the day? What do you want your own children to observe and implement in their own lives with their own children in the future? These are tough questions to ask yourself, but in the end, they are vital for the legacy and preservation of your beloved family. If you’re not sure where to start, book a call and we can help you work through the process.