Monday, August 23, 2010

Dividing The Family Pie

We are influenced by news that we hear and read about.  National and World events are happening at an ever-increasing rate of speed!  Often I count on my husband to update me on major happenings in the world.  I want to make sure I am getting the right story and the right take.  For me, the best way to understand an event is to recount my understanding of what happened.
So, how concerned are you about property or money settlement issues within your extended family?  I know it can be a sore spot.  When a parent or relative gives out holdings in an unfair way or in a way that people don't agree with, tensions within families can mount.  But is it worth killing your own family over?  C'mon, that is going waaaaay over the line in terms of my own understanding.  I say, just let them have the heirloom china and wish them good luck with it.  You can't take it with you anyway!

But that is exactly what happened over the weekend in Louisa, VA.  A man shot and killed his own son and nephew in an ongoing dispute over a piece of property, not to mention the 4 others that were wounded in the fray.  Then police shot and killed him after he fired on two deputies and released his pit bull on them. Apparently, this 1.5 acres was a real hot commodity among family members. Police were called on multiple occasions to settle disputes amongst the clan.  But it never got violent until yesterday.  Well, sir, I hope you are happy.  You're dead, your son is dead, your nephew is dead and that ought to be a fun little party on the other side!  And who gets the 1.5 acres?  I guess whoever was left alive!  I hope the remaining relatives will be a little more wise.  Wow!  I used to live in VA.  I'd have to say you might be a redneck if... you bring out the .22 caliber when your limited vocabulary of "Thisheer is ma land, ain't no one else's!" fails to bring about a unanimous agreement!
May I suggest a few ways to insure a peaceful estate settlement when the time arrives?

1.  Only involve the individuals who are named in the will or trust.  The fewer outsiders and outside opinions, the better! Spouses and children who are not directly a part of the settlement don't need to be involved.

2.  Start the conversation!  Many times it is awkward to even mention that someone won't be around forever.  Many times people are afraid that they will sound greedy when talking about estate affairs.  A possible good start to this conversation might be:  "Mom, Dad, I know you love us. You have taught us how to be thoughtful, caring people, by example. I am reasonably certain that you want us to care for you in your old age and for each other when you are gone. You could do a lot to keep the spirit of our family alive and healthy after you are gone by talking to us now. You could make it immensely easier on all of us by giving us some information about your wishes and plans. This is not about money. It is about relationships and trust and responsibility.”

3.  Establish trust between family members - Family history and child rearing methods of prior generations can foster distrust between siblings. Competition among siblings is common. Although it might not be the easiest time, it is a crucial time to build trust among family members.  Do so with open dialogue and transparency of intent.  Now is not the time to have hidden agendas.  

4.  Learn as much as possible - Usually there is one primary executor but if the work is shared, not only is it easier on the executor, the beneficiaries will also have a better understanding of what is involved and have a greater stake in the best resolution for the whole family.

5.  Create unity by assuming the positive intent of others, not the negative, being open-minded and knowing that everyone doesn't see things in exactly the same way, not allowing bullying, keeping things confidential between those involved, stay involved in the decision-making even though it may make you uncomfortable, have a sense of humor and stay connected in between official meetings.

6.  Have regularly appointed meetings to keep everyone abreast of developments and decisions.  It can be done in person, with conference calls or whatever way is best suited to your situation.

7.  Have fun in the process!  Make mundane things like moving the folks into the board and care home an adventure.  Have events where everyone can have fun interaction.  Great memories make great relationships that last beyond the first generation!

Hopefully this will be a guide so that when you have to divide up the assets from the sale of the family home, you'll know exactly what to do!






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