You Can't Take it with
Family squabbles over Mama's baubles
The ugly side of estate planning
What's a mother to do? Sometimes, the ugliest chapter
in the life of a family is when the matriarch or patriarch
passes on. Deciding whom gets the family heirlooms can
be a real source of dissension. Family squabbles can
develop over Mama's baubles.
Because "you can't take it with you," when
a loved one dies, families are left with the task of
divvying up Mom and Dad's possessions. Oddly, however,
many siblings end up arguing and parting ways over stuff
that ultimately, they can't take with themselves either.
Let it start with you
So how do you avoid this mess? Here are a few simple
- Sell all of your earthly possessions and spend the
proceeds on perishable items such as fresh peas and
broccoli. Don't buy the canned stuff, because it will
last longer than a week and by the time you are buried
and the lawyers show up, there will still be cans
of food left over.
- Don't shower for one to two weeks prior to your
passing. This will mean that no one will fight over
- Never die. This one eliminates the need to take
the radical steps outlined in numbers one and two.
Honestly, there is probably no way to avoid the family
squabbles. Unless everyone involved has the proper attitude,
it will get messy. Let the proper attitude start with
yourself. In the end, a good relationship with your
siblings is much more valuable than Mama's heirloom
wall mirror. Regardless of your siblings behavior, always
take the high road. If the only thing you are left with
is your self-respect, you are better off anyhow.
Set the example for your own children by deciding in
advance that hay, wood, and stubble are not worth arguing
over. Consider this: the items that you buy today could
one day be a source of arguments for your children.
That is just downright stupid. It is equally stupid
for you to argue with your siblings over the items your
parents bought 30 years ago or that their parents bought
60 years ago.
Here is a sobering truth. Suppose you are living in
the home that your great grandfather built 90 years
ago. Are you aware that when you die, you might be leaving
your home to a child who will rent it out to college
freshmen? "Horrid," you say? Would you feel
differently if that monthly rental income helped pay
for your grandson's kidney dialysis? Or how about your
granddaughter's college education? Or how about your
son's annual trip to Vegas? Any of the above could happen.
It is true that one person's trash is another person's
treasure. It is equally true that one person's treasure
is another person's trash.
Waiting for Mama to die
Yikes! That sounds crass. Are you doing it? Oftentimes,
the choices we made 10 years ago still seem to haunt
us. Sometimes, it is the choices that were made for
us 10 years ago that still seem to haunt us.
Was there a family crisis that left you in debt? At
age 18 did you think college seemed like a waste of
time? Did your jerk husband divorce you and leave you
with three kids and little income? Did you get injured
on the job? Did your home burn down without insurance
protection? Did you choose a noble career with pauper
wages? Has your husband been unemployed twice because
of downturns in his business sector?
Now the flip side. Did your brother marry into a wealthy
family and get a cushy son-in-law job as president of
a big oil company? Did your sister invent the thingamajiggywhopper,
go public with her company, and retire at age 42 in
the Hampton's? Did your brother-in-law win the lottery?
Did your older sister never marry, live at home, and
take over the family business? Did your younger brother
put himself through medical school, become a plastic
surgeon, and now he only works three days a week?
Are you the unlucky one while your brother or sister
got all the breaks?
Are you ready for the bad news? Your parent's death
is not your ticket to success. If you feel like you
have always gotten the short end of the stick, you will
probably still feel that way after the will is read.
Why? Because your problem is not just a money problem,
it is a spiritual problem. You don't have to be rich
to be greedy. And no matter how rich you are, you can
always be envious.
How do you learn to be content with what you have?
How do you learn to live better and get out of debt?
A good place to start is taking a course from Crown
What is fair?
How do you divide up your estate fairly among your
children? That's a tough question. Define fair. That's
a tougher question.
Let's look at some scenarios assuming that you have
one successful child, one getting by, and one who is
- Do you split it evenly three ways? What could be
more fair than that? Your two less successful children
might wonder why you even gave anything to the one
who "already has it made."
- Do you give nothing to the successful child and
split it 50/50 between the remaining two? Did you
just punish success and reward failure?
Help with estate planning
Here are some resources regarding estate planning:
Hay, wood, and stubble. Eventually, it all gets used
for firewood or compost.
James G. Lewis