If you've recently lost your last surviving parent, you and your siblings may be going through the difficult process of sorting through household effects and searching for information on estate assets and debts. While death can sometimes serve as a unifying force encouraging reconciliation between estranged family members, in other cases, the asset division that takes place after death can force an even larger gulf. And because money is often at the root of friction between spouses and close family members, the combination of this volatility with the grief felt shortly after a loved one's death can cause even loving siblings to treat each other badly. Read on for some tips and tricks to help avoid conflict during an emotionally raw time while dividing your parents' possessions fairly and efficiently.
How can you ensure an equitable division of property?
Even if your parent died with a will in place, this is no guarantee the division of personal property was directed -- many wills will simply allocate all personal property below a certain dollar threshold equally to certain heirs. In practice, this can be difficult to execute, and it may be unclear which possessions are to be divided and which are to be liquidated and added to the estate. For example, if a will bequeaths all personal property valued at less than $500 equally to the surviving children, is a bedroom suite valued at $1000 considered a piece of property that must be added to the estate, or are each of the pieces themselves deemed property under $500 and divisible among the heirs?
In some cases, the fairest thing may be to simply have each heir write down a list of his or her top 5 or 10 items he or she would like from the estate, with an agreement that any item not on at least one list must be sold or donated. This can help narrow down the items over which there's an ownership dispute, giving you immediate possession of items that appear on no other lists. And if both you and your sibling have an even number of items in common, you may be able to each give up one in exchange for the other.
What should you do to make this process as drama-free as possible?
Whether you currently have a close relationship with your siblings or not, it can be helpful to clear the air before the in-depth property division begins. Establishing that it is an understandably difficult time for all involved and that your parents would not have wanted their legacy to include squabbling over possessions can keep everyone on the same track and help preemptively avoid tense standoffs.
You may even want to decide on a code word to use to immediately terminate discussions and move on when they've become heated. This can prevent minor arguments from escalating into something ugly and will let you revisit the issue when cooler heads prevail.
For more information, contact a probate lawyer in your area.
When my ex-husband decided to contest my choice to homeschool our children, I knew that I had to defend my right as the custodial parent. Our custody agreement gave me authority over educational decisions, but he still took me to court. I spent a lot of time working with an attorney to find out how best to handle it, and I did a lot of research on the laws as they applied. If you're trying to defend your educational choices amidst your divorce, this site may help. I've built it to share everything I learned and explain the process that I went through to secure my rights.