Life and Money With Helaine by Helaine Olen

Trouble Looms for Siblings Expecting to Inherit $1 Million

Dear Helaine: My dad is in his late 80s and plans to leave an estate worth about $1 million. There are four adult children, including me. We all have different mothers.

One didn't even meet my dad till she was in her 20s. I've never met her, but based on what my dad tells me, she seems weird, unstable and eager to inherit. The second is a self-made millionaire. The third married into money and hates me. None of us live near our dad, and we don't share common bonds.

He's told all of us he plans to divide the estate "evenly." This looks like a ready-made future dumpster fire, given our various mutual animosities. How should we prepare? Just assume we need to lawyer up? Just ugh. -- Half-Sibling Blues

Dear Half-Sibling Blues: Your father sounds like an extremely difficult character, based on this write-up, and I suspect that you and your siblings are fighting over his affections, among other things. All too often these conflicts get carried over into battles over the estate after death.

I am hoping for all your sakes your father appointed a neutral arbiter -- say, a lawyer or financial planner -- to administer the estate after his passing. If it's one of the siblings or another family member, it might be just fine or it could get very difficult -- especially if, as you say, there are pre-existing animosities.

If you think your relationship with your dad is solid, you could attempt to speak with him about it and explain that it would be better for an outside party to carry out his final wishes. It would be best if you could do this in tandem with at least one other sibling, but based on this note, I'm guessing that's not possible.

I don't think you will necessarily need to lawyer up. While $1 million certainly sounds like a lot of money, divided four ways, it's a generous inheritance, but not the riches long legal battles are made of.

One other note of caution: It's possible this amount will be substantially less when you inherit it, especially if your father needs long-term medical care. Don't count on receiving a six-figure inheritance until it's actually in your bank account.

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