When a parent (or any family member) passes away, the family should come together and be united… right? Well, ideally, that’d be the case; however, it’s not uncommon for families to experience peril after a death – especially if an inheritance is left behind. When siblings or family members co-inherit a home or one inherits the home while others don’t, conflict often occurs. The question then becomes how they can maintain their relationships while working through an emotional and confusing time. We’ve compiled our top five tips for positive family communication during inheritance. We hope by utilizing these suggestions, you can find solutions to please everyone without sacrificing relationships.
Tip #1: Know when to use therapists versus lawyers.
Though both of these professionals can be hugely beneficial at times like this, they each have their time and place. When beginning discussions about your new situation, therapists can mediate effective conversations in family counseling. Family members will be able to express and explore their feelings. This often leads to more unified relationships and less emotional damage long term.
Once the family is finished discussing and everyone is happy with the solution, lawyers can draft a clear legal agreement. This holds everyone accountable to the agreed upon details of how they will behave or split the home if selling is not in the cards. If everyone wants to sell, they should split the proceeds the same way the deceased divided the estate itself.
Tip #2: Remember thoughts may not be clear, so don’t rush into a decision.
This is an emotionally-charged time and everyone grieves differently, which is exactly why involving a therapist can be so helpful. But more than that, when you throw money into a grieving situation, people can get loony. They can act in ways that are polar opposite of their norm. Because of this, it’s important not to make rash decisions.
Be honest with yourself and your family members during this time, but be sensitive when doing so. Solving problems together is much easier than fighting from four different angles. Part of being honest may be asking yourselves hard questions like “are we being overly sentimental about the home?” “Is it really practical for us to keep this?” “Will we use the house or are we holding onto it like we would the art project we made in 3rd grade?”
Give everyone a little grace and time to process their new situation before moving forward with any given decision.
Tip #3: Consider all pieces of the puzzle.
As appealing as keeping the home (or dividing its use among the co-inheritors) may seem, don’t forget about the accompanying logistics. Maintaining the property will require resources for insurance costs, property taxes, inheritance taxes, maintenance costs and time, etc.!
It’s VITAL to determine now who will be responsible for each aspect and really think about whether or not it’s reasonable to keep the home. If not, you should still consider who will be responsible for what in the sales process before proceeds are divided.
Tip #4: Not everyone has to agree.
Let’s just say that you have two other siblings and neither of them want to keep the property but you really do. Maybe because you’d like to live in the home yourself or you can’t emotionally part with it. If you’re able to maintain the home and cover the associated costs, you could buy your siblings out of their portion of the estate. In this case, everyone gets what they want.
Obviously not everyone has a ton of money sitting around; however, you could potentially obtain a loan to purchase their shares and keep the home for yourself as the sole owner. It’s not uncommon for everyone to have different ideas about what to do with the property. While ideally, it’d be great if everyone were on the same page, sometimes it’s just not realistic. In these cases, discuss your options and see how you can resolve your disagreement in a fair way for everyone. Be creative if you have to.
Tip #5: Don’t wait until your parents (or relatives) are deceased.
Sure, hindsight is 20/20. It may be too late to do this with the relatives you received your inheritance from, but it’s not too late for you to discuss these types of affairs with your own heirs or beneficiaries. Because parents are often the best natural mediators between siblings and other family members, relationships can be much more civilly maintained if discussions about what to do with their estate once they pass are had when they’re still here.
Though it can be emotionally difficult to bring these concerns up while they are still here because it forces you (and them) to think of life without them, it is still much less painful than fights caused by cloudiness of grief once they’re gone. Above all, it lends itself to an open and honest discussion of everyone’s preferences while thoughts are clear.
Losing a family member is never an easy experience to go through and can often be made more difficult by sorting through confusing inheritance situations; however, don’t let the loss of one loved one lead to the loss of relatives that are still living just because of greed. Remember that the relationships you have are more important than any amount of money or assets gained. If you and your family can maintain that focus, navigating through the decisions ahead will become much easier.