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Sibling rivalries and estate disputes may stem from childhood

Estate disputes sometimes revolve around siblings who seem like they just want to do anything in their power to "win" against the other sibling. They act as if dividing up the estate is a contest. They may also be emotionally pitted against one another, as if they won't agree on anything out of principle.

The root cause of these disputes isn't always money. It may be pride, resentment or an old rivalry. Often, that's why it doesn't seem to make sense from the outside.

For instance, both siblings may be dedicated to keeping the family home for themselves. Even when the best financial solution is clearly to sell the house in a hot market and split the earnings, they'll refuse. They'll contest the will or go to court or simply make the process as hard as they can.

The reason is that their goal is not to resolve the dispute or arrive at a fair solution. Their goal is to feel like they got the better end of the deal or even just that they kept something that the other sibling wanted from them.

Childhood issues

These emotional issues and rivalries can develop during adulthood, or they may grow worse, but they often start back in childhood. A few common reasons include feeling:

  • That one child was the favorite
  • That one child got more of the parent's attention
  • Like they were ignored by their parents

Parents may not do this on purpose, but they could make one child feel like the black sheep of the family. Saying things like "Why can't you be more like your brother or sister?" implies that the child is less worthy of the parents' love and affection. The parents may intend to motivate that child to improve, but they usually just make them resent their sibling.

Unequal inheritances

When you really see rivalries crop up is when the children get different inheritances. If the child who was "always the favorite" gets more money than the child who was "black sheep," it seems to reinforce the idea that the parents preferred that child and loved them more. This can cause a dispute because the second sibling actually feels outraged over years of this treatment -- or perceived treatment -- and sees this as a chance to finally get even.

This can happen even when parents actually love the children equally and may have a good reason to leave different assets to different kids.

Your options

Are you in the midst of an estate dispute that has gotten very complicated and difficult? If so, make sure you consider both the root causes of the dispute and the legal options you have.

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