Legal: Siblingship

siblingship [sib-ling-ship]
noun (November 9, 2013):
1. The state of being related or interrelated
2. A state of affairs existing between one of two or more individuals having one common parent.

You will not find this word in the dictionary — it is a new word as of November 9, 2013. It describes the unique, textured, dynamic relationship existing between siblings. Think about the uniqueness of this relationship. Siblings begin their relationship at a very young age. My twins, for example, literally started their lives together. And, if they are fortunate, they will experience their lives to old age together. They experience joys and setbacks together, laugh and cry together, and fight together. And through the fighting, they can learn conflict resolution together. No other relationship is quite like a “siblingship.” Parents are there at the beginning, but all too often they leave too early. Spouse’s join us in our adult lives. Friends often come and go.

When parents die, siblings are called home to “divide up the pie.” And what I experience all too often with the families that I work with, is that the siblings fight over the same things that they fought over when they were kids — property and fairness. However, the parents are no longer there to referee and help divide up the pie fairly.

The estate planning process, if done properly, can do much to minimize the risk of fighting when parents die. However, many plans do not speak clearly enough in this respect. Leaving a family home or a heirloom “equally to the children” does not go far enough to help avoid the family fight. To leave it up to grieving adult children to decide what is “equal” when it comes their inheritance, puts too much pressure on their relationship.

If the parents and the estate planning attorney do not spend enough time minimizing the risk of fighting between the siblings, we risk fracturing, or worse destroying this unique, wonderful relationship — the siblingship.

The estate plan ultimately is supposed to mirror and reflect our lives, and the relationships we built. If your plan does not mirror and reflect your most important values, or does not speak clearly enough to ensure that it helps to preserve the relationships between your children — their siblingship — I encourage you to review your plan with your estate planning attorney.