Aleteia

When dividing the inheritance between siblings seems like an impossible task

Inheritance
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How can you nip conflicts in the bud and preserve the loving bond that unites brothers and sisters?  

Squabbles over family inheritance have the potential to break the bonds of siblings indefinitely. The division of parental assets can sometimes lead to emotional  confrontations and fights. Siblings may feel they’ve been wronged or treated unfairly. In these situations, you need to first ask yourself whether these rivalries actually find their roots in the distant past.  

Resentments that emerge in childhood

Generally, the resentment that rears its ugly head at inheritance time goes way back. Siblings are not necessarily enchanted by the birth of a new sister or a brother. Competition for leadership can start fairly early on. The position of each sibling is an important factor in how our personalities and temperaments develop.

The oldest child is not like the youngest, and the one in the middle can feel unloved and forgotten. Eventually, a desire to “get even” appears – and why not at the moment when the inheritance is divided? Frustrations that have been bottled up for so many years may be perceived as spitefulness.

Anticipate the succession before the death of your parents

You need to plan for the situation in advance. And if you are a parent, consider that when children are still young you can and should teach them how to resolve their conflicts by talking and respecting one another. This can spare them from bottling up their resentment and frustration and then having it all boil over in the future when you’re gone.

But parents should also plan for problems that might arise when the time comes for them to divide the inheritance.

Family meetings can allow each member to express his ideas and make objections. You may fear that some won’t show up, but this is rarely the case when there is a question of money or property involved. The main difficulty for parents is that they themselves are not always fair. They are not always aware of their own favoritism or the way their words and actions can be perceived that way.

Appeal to a third party and more importantly to the Gospel

If these problems arise after the death of both parents, consider hiring an expert to help mediate the situation. You could also turn to someone everyone accepts, like a relative whose honesty and objectivity are recognized by all. His or her purpose would not be so much to resolve the material contentions as to help each person to give his opinion and listen to them without rushing to judgment, and then invite them to ponder their relationship to the inheritance: “Why do I insist so much on what I claim?” or on the contrary: “Why do I feel wronged?”

There is no miracle solution. The most important thing is that each person has a chance to speak out, that each tries to feel empathy in order to understand the needs and frustrations of the others, and be able to forgive rather than to judge. 

We can keep in mind some biblical advice: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “What good for someone to inherit the world and lose their soul?,” “And if someone sues you for a tunic, let him have your cloak as well,” and perhaps most especially: “As I have loved you, so must you love one another.”

Denis Sonet

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