Sibling rivalry is alive and well. Especially when it comes to inheritance fights. There’s a lot of psychology involved in this business. I don’t claim to be a psychologist or therapist, but I have a great dealing of experience watching people deal with siblings—both successfully and disastrously. And, of course, every situation and every person is different so there is no one way to deal with every issue. However, there are a few concepts you might want to keep in mind when working with a difficult sibling.
1. Communication is key
When siblings don’t like or trust each other, they assume the worst. And when communication breaks down, the relationship heads South quickly as parties assume the other is actively harming them. The key is try as best as you can to keep the lines of communication open so issues can be raised and information shared about the Trust or Will assets. Even if the other party won’t talk to you, the more you can send information to them, the better.
2. Fairness and the appearance of fairness are two different things
It may be that everything in your Trust is being handled fairly, but when an untrusted sibling is in charge, people assume the worst. Sometimes an action that looks fair when taken by a neutral Trustee, looks decidedly unfair when an untrusted sibling takes the same action. Whether you are the Trustee or a beneficiary, maintaining an appearance of fairness is vitally important to avoiding all out warfare.
3. Don’t back yourself into a corner
When making demands of siblings, or any adverse party, you want to be sure you give yourself an out. Don’t tell a sibling that you are definitely going to take a certain action, such as filing a lawsuit. Instead, let them know that you may file a lawsuit if they do not cooperate, but you’d rather work it out. You can always file a lawsuit, but you can’t always get out of a tough threat once you make it.
4. Saving face
Sometimes a sibling wants to cooperate, but just can’t bring themselves to do so for fear of looking like he or she lost. By taking a step back and giving your sibling a reason to change his mind, you can help that sibling save face and come to the bargaining table. For example, instead of saying your sibling is wrong, why not say you had a difference of opinion, but it would be much easier to resolve this now before we all spend too much time and money going to Court (or continuing a court action).
5. How to give without giving
One of the most interesting aspects of settling a disputed Trust or Will case is that sometimes the opposing party wants something that really costs my client nothing to give. For example, perhaps they want some keepsake that my client couldn’t care less about, and that concession helps settle the case. Sometimes an asset can be given to an opposing party, but held in trust and then given to the grandchildren after the opposing party dies. That may be a great way to give an asset, but then send it on to where it belongs—the grandkids. These are just two examples, there are many instances where a case can settle by giving something you simply don’t value, but the other party does!
6. Bullies need resistance
If you have a bully of a sibling, someone who sees things only one way and refuses to compromise in any way, then you have to stand up for yourself. Bullies only understand one thing: resistance. Stand strong, go to court if you have to, and stand up for what is fair. More often than not the bully will either back down or be proven wrong in court. Sometimes, there’s just no playing nice.
7. Wobblers need a push
While bullies need resistance, wobblers need a good push. Wobblers are those people who refuse to commit to any action at all. A compromise can never be reached because the wobbler can never decide what action to take or what resolution to accept. They need a push. Sometimes that includes a push in court, but it can be accomplished outside of court as well.
8. Liars call everyone else liars
Yes, what your siblings say about you is awful and unfair. And they call you a liar when they have lied about everything. This is normal. It happens more than you could know and it is not only happening to you. And it should be no surprise that the liars are the ones calling everyone around them liars. Rather than getting mad, get the result you want. As with bullies, you just need to defend yourself. Eventually the liars words must be proven in court, and when that fails, the liar has nothing left to lie about.
9. Words can be ignored, but court orders get things done
Want to force action in your Trust or Will matter? You have to go to court. It would be nice if Trustees did what they were required to do and everyone took a fair approach to inheritance matters—they don’t. And while letters sound nice, especially a good long letter written by a lawyer, they accomplish nothing. The only way to force action is through court orders. And the only way to obtain a court order is by filing an action in court. When you have a sibling that ignores letters and written requests, you have no choice but to file in court for help.
10. Forgive and forget
When all is said and done, you have a life to live. So forgive and forget after your Trust or Will matter is resolved so you can get on to what matters most: the rest of your life.