My Sibling is the Problem

This week, I’m answering another great question from a reader.

Q:  I am the executor of my mother’s estate.  There are 4 children and one of them is being problematic, even accusing me of things I haven’t done and have no intention of doing.  Is there something I can do to help this situation, because she is not speaking with me and causing everyone great distress?  She wants everything in Mom’s house that is valuable and is not willing to share.  Mom specified everything be split 4 ways equally.  Any help would be appreciated!

A:  In my profession, I see this more often than I would like to admit.  Sometimes the glue of the family begins to disintegrate once both parents pass away.  If one sibling is being difficult, he or she is really calling out for some type of assistance, and it requires great patience and grace to get to the root of the problem.  In some cases, the difficulty can lie in a form of guilt or resentment that this sibling is feeling.  Perhaps they never got the chance to make something right with the loved one before their passing, or felt cheated during their life by the one who just died.  Envy can also play an important role in the behavior of siblings during this difficult time.

Here’s what to do to help this situation.  Write each sibling a letter as the executor.  Share with them the feelings and fears you have about this situation.  Be honest and direct and encourage a family meeting.  Offer each sibling the opportunity to speak, one at a time.  Ask the problematic sibling to tell you what they desire and why.   What would make them feel better?  Really listen to each other.

Have an appraiser evaluate the contents of the home before anything is removed.   Keep a spreadsheet for each sibling and what they would like to have.  Make certain each takes approximately the same financial amount, based on the appraisal.  If one has considerably less assets, make up for it with cash assets, if all siblings agree.  Select items in mom’s house in order of birth and then reverse the order to make it fair, or draw names out of a hat.

Being an executor is probably the most difficult task you might ever experience.  It will test the core of your being!  Lead with your heart, keep compassion on the forefront of your mind to remain fair and objective, and most of all, honor your mother’s memory by being respectful of her and her lifelong possessions.  This is about your mother’s wishes, not your sibling’s!

© 2010 Julie Hall

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Julie, what if it’s the executor (eldest sibling, estranged from our dad for 15 years) who’s secretly removing valuables and family heirlooms from the house, letting the home go into foreclosure instead of paying from the estate case reserves? What recourse does the resident sibling (parent’s caregiver) have?

    • I hear of this more often than people realize. Unfortunately, you will need to seek legal counsel for the answer to that question – but the one thing I know from a compassionate perspective, is when you look 2 years or 20 years into the future, you will need to do what will ultimately bring you peace of mind. I can’t imagine anything worse than carrying a heavy burden the rest of my life when there is something you may be able to do about it. Even if nothing is done about it, at least make an appointment and ask questions so you will know in your heart that you did what you could. You will need an Estate Planning Attorney, or Elder Law Attorney. Best wishes to you. I know this weighs heavily on you.


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