After the old woman died, her children – who themselves were getting on in years were surprised to learn the contents of her will. The four siblings were left an equal quarter of the value of a house and property. Her wishes were that whoever died first that their portion would go to the other three, and so on. She thought this was the fairest way to handle the bequest of her estate to her four children.
Three of her children had spouses, two had children the the youngest had neither child not spouse. The eldest two siblings with children desired that the property be passed down to their family when they died – not passed, as had been their mother’s wish – to their brother and sister. The second oldest had also acted as executor of the will. On his own he decided to take money from their mother’s estate and hire an estate attorney to draw up a new trust for the property, changing the rights of inheritance to include wives and children and grandchildren. This meant that instead of four siblings owning the property it would be now be owned by the four sibling, plus the six children of two of the siblings and seven great grandchildren from the two families.
One day not long after the matriarch died, the youngest sibling, one who had no spouse and no children, received a special delivery package containing this new trust. There was a note from her older brother telling her to “sign quickly and return the next day.” She didn’t.
When her brother called to find out why she hadn’t signed it and sent it back she said she didn’t want to change the will. She told him she found it distressing that he had made an executive decision using money from the estate to hire new attorneys to draw up a new trust without consulting the other siblings. Her brother became enraged. He spoke in a vindictive, nearly hysterical manner, something she had never heard him do before. The new estate attorneys called asking what they might do to change her mind.
The next time she saw her brother they met in the hospital. Their father was dying. Thye were the perfunctory greetings but they realized their relationship had fundamentally changed.
In an attempt to be fair a mother inadvertently started a rift and a wound between siblings that to this day is not healed. Issues like this can be easily avoided by making sure estate documents are carefully drafted – with no contradictory language, no vague phrasing – just precise and clear language to eliminate any misunderstanding.