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How can I keep an inheritance from destroying my family?


What can you do when disagreements over inheritance threaten to damage relations between surviving family members?

t My grandmother passed away a few months ago and left her home to my brother and me. My brother is ready to sell the property right away and split the money we make, but I can’t bring myself to do that. It’s a pretty old home and we don’t expect to make a lot from the sale, although the money would be very helpful for my brother, who can use it more than me. I understand this, but I was very close to my grandmother and have many wonderful memories in her home. I’m just not ready to let it go. What should I do?

t I am so sorry to hear of your grandmother’s passing and the difference this has created with your brother. The period after losing a loved one is often very difficult for families. Grief can overwhelm our rational thoughts and our sensitivity to others’ feelings, clouding our ability to deal with the practical aspects of inheritance.

t You may understand that the best thing to do — maybe even the only thing to do, unless you plan to rent the house or live in it yourself — is to eventually sell. But knowing that is different from being ready to act on it.

t I see two issues here that need attention. One is how you resolve your feelings of loss so that you and your brother can come to an agreement about the property, and the other is how you protect your relationship with your brother from being damaged in the process.

twoman and man discussing

Photo credit: wickedpix/iStock/360/Getty Images

Open up communication

t Your brother is an equal stakeholder in this decision, and his feelings are just as valid as yours. Your grief, as strong as it may be, shouldn’t determine what to do with a shared asset. In fact, it’s possible that it’s his own grief that is causing him to rush the sales process, and not simply his need of the money. Assumptions and differences among surviving family members can be extremely damaging, and I’m sure your grandmother would not want to see that happen to you and your brother. The key is open, respectful communication. Let your brother know that you share the goal of selling the house, but that you need to work through your feelings about letting it go. If he feels that you are at least united in your objective, he is likely to be more open to collaborating on how to go about it.

Establish a time frame

t It’s important to strike a balance between slowing the process down and yet keeping yourself moving forward. Talk to your brother about a reasonable time frame for preparing and listing the house. Do you want to give yourselves a year? Six months? Keep in mind that maintaining ownership for that time period may have financial ramifications, such as the cost of upkeep and property taxes. Consider if you are willing to accept greater responsibility for these expenses in exchange for your brother’s support of an extended time frame.

Assign tasks

t Selling a property takes a lot of effort. You and your brother can draw up a list of tasks and determine who will be responsible for what. Think of who has the time, talent and capacity for each area of responsibility. If you feel up to it, I would suggest that you take the lead on cleaning and organizing of the contents of the house. Touching, sorting and caring for your grandmother’s things will give you a chance to re-experience those memories you hold so dear, and can be helpful in the letting-go process. Just make sure you carve out enough time and get enough support to do the job without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

Focus on the positive

t Try to keep in mind your grandmother’s intention in leaving you what was probably her most precious asset. She trusted you and your brother to be good stewards of the property that she nurtured and loved. She would want this final gift to bring good things to you both. When you feel frustrated, when you feel sad, come back to the intention of her bequest and seek harmony and reconciliation.

t Grief is a powerful emotion that requires time and energy to resolve. Be kind and gentle with yourself during this period. Creating space to process your feelings of loss will help keep them from complicating other aspects of your life and relationships. I wish the best to you and your family.

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