Part 2 is the Will, but Part 1 is Often Overlooked to Dire Consequences

Jennifer and Lily were sisters. When they were young they played dolls together as so many sisters do. Of course, their brothers, Peter and Tom would not join their sisters in doll play. They were out in their forts taking sides against the enemy and sometimes, each other.

Years later the girls stayed connected to each other; only now it was around the goings on in their families; their dolls had been put away a long time ago. Their brothers, on the other hand, who went into the family business, talked shop most of the time.  They vetted their frustration with their autocratic dad who would forget to include them in important business decisions and directions. Just the other week he signed an agreement with an offshore distributor, about expanding into Asia at a time the business was losing market share in their core markets.  The brothers were now in their late thirties and early forties. Wasn’t it time to bring them in to conversations that their Dad reserved for his two golfing buddies and his business attorney?

Nothing changed until one day, in his office, their Dad suddenly had a fatal heart attack.  Neither the two brothers nor their sisters were prepared for this. Their parents had divorced years earlier and although their Mom was devastated by the news, she would not be part of the instructions in the will.   Any thoughts, wishes, pleas or understandings were of no use now as the brothers and sisters gathered in shock.

The will was distributed to each adult child. The siblings seemed satisfied at what they read. The two daughters, to their relief, were given cash while the two sons were given merely the struggling business in equal shares…to their dismay. They knew how to talk about Dad together but not how to manage a business together; plus, given this business with its precarious financial state, they wondered if they really received anything of benefit.

Fast forward five years later; the brothers who initially thought about selling the business, were able to stabilize the company and then watch it rise back up to a positon of strength. They now had a business of value and with a bright future. Their sisters, those with the cash, $1 million each, were out of money. They spent their inheritance on cars, family trips, clothes and things they don’t even remember purchasing. It didn’t matter. Their money was gone.  Now, they were thinking of suing their brothers for part of the estate they never received-the business.

Let’s take a look at this situation. This family was ripped apart by an idea that sounded good on paper: money to one set, the business to another but in all reality, this good paper idea turned into a point of contention. The sisters and their brothers, who grew up together under the same roof, found themselves with different inheritances.

The will was well crafted by outstanding attorneys who knew the Dad well. But documents cannot serve a bigger purpose than what they state. If documents are meant to serve a bigger purpose, the conversations of purpose and intention need to happen between the will maker and the beneficiaries, the parties who will be served by the functionality of the will. When this doesn’t happen the probability of squandering, spending, or squabbling over the assets is high, very high.  The brothers weren’t prepared to inherit a business. The sisters were not prepared to receive cash.

Are you paying more attention to the passing of the assets or the passing of purpose and responsibilities to your family? Think about it, it’s an important question to ask yourself.

Leave me your thoughts. I would like to hear from you about this important topic.

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