I often remind my daughters to watch their heart when they fight over petty little fights over some piece of clothing or who is sitting the middle seat in the van. I have seen many battles completely sever siblings and their families from each other over probate and estate matters. I have seen families never attend Thanksgiving or Christmas together again. Siblings may never speak. Cousins are forever deprived of each other because of a bitterness between their sibling parents. Brother wars against sister.
I often described the situation like a pressure cooker. While mom and dad are alive, the lid keeps all the turmoil or resentment, bitterness under control, but as soon as they are out of picture, decades of pressure is released causing a mess. Per this Atlantic article entitled: “It Used to Be Okay for Parents to Play Favorites”
For many of us, our relationships with our siblings are the most profound relationships in our lives, more important and influential than the ones we have with our parents. They are in fact the only relationship many of us have for life, with someone who’s around from the beginning until the end. Humans generally maintain lifelong sibling relationships; we’re the only species that does. Which gives us a long, long time to hold a grudge.
The article further describes the sibling hostility even in the Bible:
While there’s little recorded evidence of parents trying to stop sibling conflict, there’s plenty of evidence that conflict occurred. Both myth and history are full of examples, with the Bible alone providing a good half-dozen case studies. Sibling conflict shows up in about 20 of the 50 chapters in Genesis. The very first homicide occurs between the very first brothers, Cain and Abel. Esau and Jacob, like sand tiger sharks, begin fighting while still in the womb. Later, Jacob favors his own son Joseph so blatantly that Joseph’s jealous siblings throw him into a well and sell him into slavery.
The article raises and interesting thought consideration which has implications for Estate Planning:
The idea that you’re supposed to treat your children equally is recent, and it’s still not the norm in much of the world, where different siblings might have different roles and even different titles. In English, we refer to both younger and older siblings as sister or brother, but Chinese has separate terms for each. A gege (older brother) has different rights and responsibilities than a younger one (didi), as do a jiejie (big sister) and meimei (little sister). In Japan, an old slang term for the second son was “Master Cold Rice,” because historically he ate only after the firstborn got his food.
Treating all your children the same is certainly not the norm historically, either. Playing favorites is called “parental differential treatment,” and it was standard practice until fairly recently. Treating all your children the same would be as ridiculous as, say, treating your husband and the doorman the same because they’re both men, greeting them both with kisses and giving both tips for bringing up the mail. The two just play different roles, and there are different expectations for each.
In estate planning, parents are not required to treat children equally. It is perfectly lawful to leave a majority of your valuables to one child over another. Its perfectly fine to completely exclude one children from inheritance. It may be perfectly appropriate to name a younger child as Personal Representative over an elder child.
My advice: put your preferences clearly in writing through a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Living Will. Remove the ambiguity which might exist after you pass away. (Don’t rely upon how they act now; plan for conflict.)