A lack of trust and transparency between parents and their children, or among the siblings themselves, is common in many cases we mediate. Too often parents name one of their children executor of their will or financial power of attorney, or both, without telling the other siblings.
Or informing them after the fact.
While parents may think they are doing the right thing because they are planning for when they might lack capacity to make good decisions, not including the other siblings in the process can have negative results.
What can happen? Sibling rivalries bubble up. Questions arise like:
- Why does Jack have power of attorney? He’s the youngest! OR
- He lives 3,000 miles away, and I live down the street. OR
- Didn’t Mom remember I’m a CPA?
Withholding the terms of a parent’s will or their medical information from the other siblings risks compounding distrust and suspicion. However carefully a parent may plan ahead, little can diminish the other siblings’ hardening attitudes toward the sibling with authority and/or the parents’ presumed good intentions.
What’s next? One or more of the disgruntled siblings starts looking for examples of malfeasance: How come the sibling with authority over the parents’ financial affairs got a new car on his crummy salary? Why is Sally living in that fancy four-room condo?
Assumptions grow. Suspicions mount. The poison spreads
Besides advocating for clients to plan ahead, update their will, and ensure their health care POA is properly executed, let’s make certain that parents and their adult kids talk BEFORE such decisions are finalized.
Attorneys who work with families with multiple siblings owe it to their clients to verify that everyone is on board before pen is put to paper. That doesn’t mean divulging details about Dad’s stock account or Mom’s blood pressure. But it does mean creating an atmosphere of transparency. The sibling with authority might agree to:
- Update other siblings every 3 or 6 months about their parents’ health,
- Inform them of any amendments in their parents’ wills,
- Divulge any major changes in their financial affairs.
These divisions can be minimized IF decisions are made openly, early enough to dispel jealousy and suspicion, and with no surprises.
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Sig Cohen and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sig Cohen and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Dan Shenk says
A well stated case, Sig for appropriate levels of transparency and inclusion in parental decisions affecting adult children. From my mediation cases, I have a word of counsel to ad for the parents: Don’t defer tough or potentially controversial decisions to the sibling with authority or to the sibling group. Doing so may take the pressure off you and may even feel generous or egalitarian. Unfortunately, it is likely to create conflict and in the worst cases, permanent damage to family relationships.