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By Liza Horvath


Avoiding Shock and Awe


As Stacey and Doug flew to California to attend the funeral of Stacey’s mother, they discussed the “reading of the will” and what it might reveal about a possible inheritance. Stacey had married Doug right out of college and the couple made their home in the Midwest. While Stacey had occasionally visited over the years, she mainly relied on her sister, Greta, to keep her informed of family events. Greta was hands-on with their father through a terminal illness and then with their mother’s aging and death.


It was hard to know what to expect about an inheritance. Stacey’s parents were school teachers and, while she knew they saved and invested over the years, she wondered if their savings would have been depleted for end-of-life expenses. She hoped there might be “a little something” left – she and Doug could sure use it. The couple discussed how such a reading of the will would take place, and when. Would it be after the funeral services? Doug and Stacey felt it would have been tacky or worse, perceived as money grubbing, to have asked Greta questions about a will or inheritance when she had called to tell them the date of the funeral service.  


Would Doug, Stacey and Greta meet with mom’s lawyer in his dark paneled office where, among book-lined shelves and in a hushed and serious tone, he would read, “I, Clara Stevens, declare this to be my Last Will and Testament”? Or, worse, would Stacey be told there were no assets and, if that was the case, would she then secretly wonder if Greta had helped herself to any remaining bank accounts and jewelry?


This scenario – or a similar version – plays itself out every day. One child makes their home near parents while another leaves the area – counting on the “stay at home” sibling to care for aging parents. The at-home child may initially feel pride that a parent looks solely to them for care but, unfortunately, that pride can turn to resentment when they see that sister or brother is off enjoying life while they are feeling overwhelmed by the medical, housing and financial needs of a parent. This situation can lead to the caregiving child believing that, since they are providing services day-in and day-out, they should receive the lion’s share of any inheritance. Often times the child is not alone in this growing belief – aging parents see how much is being undertaken by this child and may choose to benefit them more over another, “absent,” child.


Stacey and Doug got a couple surprises. First, a traditional “reading of the will,” does not take place anymore. Rather, the will is lodged with the court and either a probate or trust administration follows. Most beneficiaries find out what they will inherit from the executor of the estate via a letter or phone call. Greta was not forthcoming with regard to a will or any potential reading, so Stacey asked and, to her relief, Greta presented a listing of  their parents’ assets and expenses – along with a check – “a little something,” that was Stacey’s inheritance.


Obviously, situations like this are fraught with the potential to cause suspicion among siblings and can easily devolve into bitter dispute. Take the time, if possible, to educate adult children about your assets and the importance of being transparent with other children if one child is dealing with family assets and another is somewhat out of the picture. Avoiding shock and awe – at least when it comes to siblings sharing an inheritance – is always a good idea.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com










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