Aging Options

CNBC: When Siblings Fight over Money, it Usually Involves the Parents

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The headline on the recent CNBC story sounds optimistic: “Sibling money fights are rare,” it says. But then there’s this kicker: “but there’s a common cause: parents.” In other words, when siblings quarrel over finances, Mom and Dad are usually at the center of the battle.

You’ll find the CNBC article by clicking on this link.  What we noticed as we reflected on this subject is that despite the optimistic tone, which emphasizes how “rare” it is for brothers and sisters to fight over money, if you read between the lines you’ll find that a surprisingly large number of these siblings do in fact find themselves battling over family finances, and that those battles are usually triggered by the parents, for reasons we’ll explore in a minute. The article is based on a report from Ameriprise Financial that was done in late 2016. This report, called the Family Wealth Checkup, surveyed some 2,700 adults between the ages of 25 and 70.

What Ameriprise researchers found, says CNBC, is that only about 15 percent of siblings responding to the survey admitted that they do have arguments with their fellow siblings over money. (Other respondents said they “talk” with their brothers or sisters about finances but the issues don’t turn into fights.)  But what we noticed is that, of those 15 percent of siblings who say they are “financial fighters,” two-thirds report that those fights usually put parents at the center of the conflict. In other words, when fights over money erupt between siblings, Mom and Dad are at the center of the battle in two cases out of three. Based on our quick math, that means fully 10 percent of adults will probably find themselves arguing, fighting, sometimes even suing other siblings over financial issues having to do with Mom and Dad. That’s a lot of people. And remember, that number represents only those who willingly admit to having these battles. How many more won’t confess family fights over finances, or are young enough that they have yet to experience just how ugly a family money fight can be?

So what are the “parental” issues that trigger family wars over money? The CNBC article lists at least three broad common categories of friction that can set off a financial fight.

The first sore point, says Ameriprise, is the amount of financial support given to each child by the parent during their lifetime. Obviously each adult child’s circumstances can be different, but it’s easy to see how parents can be accused of favoritism by giving more support to one sibling over his or her family members. Sometimes the age of the adult kids is a factor in this perception of inequity. This survey last fall from Fidelity reported that almost half of millennials (those in their early 20s to mid-30s) say Mom and Dad have helped them with their living expenses, and more than 20 percent are still living at home (or have moved back in). If that millennial has older and more established siblings, resentment over “favoritism” might be brewing that could come out later, in some very unhealthy ways.

The second trigger point for family fights involves how the parents plan to divide their inheritance when they die. Nothing says that estates have to be divided equally among siblings, but in our experience the time to talk about your gifting plan is now, not when the parent has died and one or more siblings resents being (in their view) unfairly treated. This is also true if the parent plans to do something unexpected, such as leaving a large bequest to a non-profit or university. The sooner your kids know your plans, the less potential for conflict after your passing, even if having the conversation now can be touchy.

The third source of family friction, says the survey, is how much each sibling is expected to contribute to a parent’s financial support in old age. This is a huge arena for major conflicts in our experience here at AgingOptions. CNBC recommends coming up with a well-crafted caregiving plan in which each sibling’s capacity for financial assistance is blended with their ability to help in more hands-on, tangible ways. The sibling with more resources who lives farther away, for example, might be able to contribute more money while the one who is visiting and spending time every day is paying less money but contributing more daily effort.

So what’s our solution here at AgingOptions? Are we satisfied with a situation in which at least 10 percent of adult siblings (and probably many more) face the prospect of going to war with their own brothers and sisters over issues involving how they were treated by Mom and Dad, and how they in turn will treat their parents as they age? No, we find such a situation appalling, especially when the solution seems to us so very obvious: hold a family conference under the direction of one of our professional estate experts at AgingOptions. Bring parents and siblings together around the table, and go carefully down through a list of potentially contentious issues. Based on our many years of experience, we confidently predict you’ll declare that having a family conference under the guidance of AgingOptions is the best decision you ever made, and we believe your children will concur.

But Mom and Dad, here’s what you need to do first: attend a free LifePlanning Seminar are learn about the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan . The fact is, you need a blueprint so that you can build the retirement you’ve always hoped and dreamed about, where you can protect your assets, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the trap of being institutionalized against your will.  With a LifePlan, every facet of retirement comes together: financial, legal, housing and medical – not to mention, of course, your family. To find out dates and times and to register online, simply click here, or contact us during the week.

Step one: attend a LifePlanning Seminar and begin to create the plan for your future. Step two: bring your family together for a conference designed to minimize conflict and preserve family harmony. It can be done – with the help of the professionals at AgingOptions!

(originally reported at

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