Conflict about Estate Division

I recently attended the memorial service of my father-in-law, while this event and the ensuing estate division went smoothly, I was reminded of how this often does not happen.  When an elderly family member dies, previous family conflicts can reoccur or new ones can begin.  Many families have ongoing conflicts between siblings due to personality differences, traumatic events, and family dynamics.  Here’s an example.  Margaret was the mother of three children who are now in their fifties.  She passed away after a long battle with cancer.  During her illness, her oldest daughter, June, was her primary caregiver and missed a lot of work, due to her caregiving responsibilities.  As a result, her mother changed her will two months prior to her death to give June 50% of her financial assets.  The remaining 50% was split evenly between the two youngest siblings, John and Julie.  Julie and John were very upset about this and felt that their mother was not aware of the support they provide “behind the scenes” to Margaret.  They also felt the division of assets was unfair, since June lived in the same home as Margaret for three years and Margaret covered the mortgage, so June’s living expenses were significantly reduced for this period.  In a situation like this, the parties can choose to hire a mediator to assist in resolving this dispute.  A mediator can help the siblings to discuss the situation in a safe and productive manner.  It is not uncommon that the dynamics between them for most of their lives will also be reflected in this situation.  If John and Julie feel like June was always favored by her mother, then they are likely to interpret this situation in the same way.  If June has always felt like she priorized her mother’s well-being more than her siblings did, then she will likely interpret John and Julie’s frustration as unjustified.  A mediator can help all of the siblings to understand each other better and figure out a plan for moving forward and preserving or improving sibling relationships.  I also recommend that all involved get legal advice so they are aware of their legal rights and responsibilities.