In the estate planning world, discussions often revolve around wills, trusts, tax reduction strategies, and the distribution of wealth. While these are undoubtedly critical components, one aspect that can easily be overlooked but holds profound importance is the protection and preservation of sibling relationships—especially after parents’ passing.

Importance of Sibling Relationships

Numerous studies have supported the importance of sibling relationships. Early landmark research suggested that strong sibling relationships are associated with higher levels of psychological well-being and lower rates of depression and substance abuse in adulthood (Stocker CM, et al., 2020 and Weir, Kirsten, 2022). Others explored the importance of close relationships between adult siblings and how they can support a more fulfilling and enjoyable life, even in the elderly stages of life (Cicirelli, 1995). Recognizing the vital nature of sibling relationships, CNN published a 2021 article titled “How to have a good relationship with siblings as adults.” Creating new memories, letting go of old resentments, and avoiding comparisons topped their list of sage advice.

Inherently, we know that sibling bonds are unique and irreplaceable. They are formed through shared experiences, childhood memories, and a deep understanding of growing up together. However, when parents pass away, these relationships can face significant challenges – especially during the settling of an estate after a parental death.

As an estate planning attorney, I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of strained sibling relationships on families and their legacies. Here are five reasons why fostering sibling relationships should be a priority in the estate planning process:

1. Strengthening Family Unity

Maintaining strong sibling bonds fosters a sense of unity within the family. This unity can provide comfort and support during grief and transition. When siblings come together, they can provide emotional support to one another, share memories of their parents, and navigate the complexities of estate administration more effectively. Estate planning tools such as Gifts and Memories Lists can help facilitate this process.

2. Preserving Family Values and Traditions

Parents often pass down not just wealth but also values, traditions, and family history. Siblings play a crucial role in preserving and passing on these intangible assets to future generations. By maintaining close relationships with one another, siblings can ensure that family values endure and that cherished traditions continue to be celebrated. Ethical Wills are a great estate planning tool to preserve family values and traditions.

3. Facilitating Effective Estate Administration

Sibling cooperation can streamline the estate administration process. When siblings communicate openly and work together harmoniously, decisions regarding the distribution of assets, the execution of wills, and the settling of estates can be made more efficiently and with less conflict. This ultimately benefits all parties involved and helps preserve familial harmony and legacy.

4. Minimizing Legal Disputes

One of the most significant challenges in estate planning is the potential for disputes and litigation among family members. Sibling rivalries, misunderstandings, and disagreements over inheritances can escalate into costly and emotionally draining legal battles. By understanding the dynamics of sibling relationships and properly capturing the estate owner(s) desires during the estate planning process, attorneys can help minimize the likelihood of future disputes and litigation.

5. Honoring the Legacy of Parents

Perhaps most importantly, preserving sibling bonds honors the legacy of parents. Parents invest a lifetime in raising their children and often hope their family will remain close-knit even after they’re gone. By fostering strong relationships among siblings, families can honor the values and ideals instilled by their parents and ensure that their legacy lives on for generations to come.

Incorporating strategies to promote sibling unity into estate planning discussions is essential. All family members benefit by encouraging open communication among siblings, facilitating family meetings to discuss estate plans and expectations, and emphasizing the importance of compromise and understanding. Additionally, consider including provisions in your estate planning documents that promote cooperation and conflict resolution among siblings. For example, simple mediation language or a “no contest clause” that states those who contest the will/trust forfeit their share of the estate can help avoid litigation.

Contact Us Today

As the founder of Relational Estate & Elder Law, my desire is not only to help our clients legally transfer their assets but also to preserve their family legacy. Contact us today to help meet your estate planning or estate administration needs. By recognizing the significance of sibling relationships and taking proactive steps to facilitate harmony and clear communication, families can honor the bonds that tie them together and ensure a legacy of unity and love.

 

Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is the founder of Relational Estate & Elder Law, and he has been a practicing attorney for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law. He is licensed in both Virginia and West Virginia. Josh’s passion lies in helping people gain peace of mind about the future through holistic legal planning. When he isn’t meeting with clients or crafting legal documents, Josh enjoys spending time with his lovely wife, Jill, and their four vibrant children.

 

Disclaimer: The information you obtain in this post is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. This blog shares general best practices when navigating Virginia or West Virginia law, but you should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

 

 

 

 

References:

Stocker CM, Gilligan M, Klopack ET, Conger KJ, Lanthier RP, Neppl TK, O’Neal CW, Wickrama KAS. Sibling relationships in older adulthood: Links with loneliness and well-being. Journal Family Psychology. 2020 Mar;34(2):175-185.

Weir, Kirsten. “Improving sibling relationships.” American Psychological Association. March 1, 2022;53(2), 60. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/03/feature-sibling-relationships#:~:text=In%20a%20study%20of%20older,and%20adolescence%2C%E2%80%9D%20she%20said

Cicirelli, V. G. Sibling Relationships in Adulthood: Contact Patterns and Motivations. Journal of Family Psychology, 1995;9(3), 271–277.

Hunt, Katie. “How to have a good relationship with siblings as adults.” CNN. June 30, 2021.  https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/30/health/sibling-relationships-adult-wellness/index.html