What is it that fractures families after parents die?
Reducing the risk
When I was around 21 years of age, I remember going to the new home of my boyfriend’s friend, Pete. Pete lived at home with his mother–a somewhat zany, delightful, divorced, Aunty-Mame-type. I’ll always remember entering that home (she wasn’t there). Her son laughingly pointed out the little notes with her children’s names affixed to the back of her paintings and other valued possessions.
After 3 divorces and three children from two fathers–in retrospect–wasn’t she smart about making her final wishes known–at least for these important possessions? Who was to inherit what, was no secret. But this is unusual.
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More common is the emotional attachment adult children have to certain items that parents may–or may not–be aware of. And, of course, there are “different strokes for different folks.”
–Aunt Millie’s tea-pot. I remember a colleague’s concern that a tea-pot that had been passed down in the family not go to her brother, but rather to one specific daughter of her brother. She was adamant. It was in her will.
–On the other hand I was given my grandmother’s engagement ring and have no idea whether family members were aware of it. As a little girl I played “dress up” with any jewelry (valuable or not) I could find in a jewelry box. I could be in my pajamas adorned with jewelry–clothes didn’t matter. I’m guessing my grandmother knew I loved jewelry.
–Yet my brother and I were directed to share all of our parents’ possessions and/or proceeds from their sale. We didn’t like the same things. That worked well for us.
Is it crass for children to mention things they hope to inherit from aging parents?
Talking about and even thinking about death is uncomfortable for many parents and their adult children. That said: If it’s a comfortable conversation–meaning if we feel comfortable talking about loving a parent’s possession–being proactive is fine. Chances are we’ll express this well and the conversation will go well. It’s when we aren’t comfortable talking about something that our chance for success plummets and we need to try some other way or leave things to chance.
Sr. Advisor RHW, Esq., still-practicing trusts and estates attorney, advises his clients who don’t want to have end-of-life conversations with their children to put their intentions in writing (specifics in next post). Here’s the flip-side:
Explain about our love of/desire for a certain object in a handwritten note. Some of us express ourselves better in writing. Also important is getting the note to parents at an appropriate time; clearly we don’t want to wait until the last-minute when a parent is no longer “with it” or when it would be considered an insensitive time.
Other option: Do nothing.
Next post: THE MONEY While acrimony caused by monetary wealth can be a media event when it concerns people of high net worth, many ordinary families face the same nastiness. We just don’t hear about it.