Financial Resource Center

Money Management

'Dib's on Dad's Watch!' Splitting Family Property

by Dianne Molvig / March 25th, 2022

The day will come when you and your siblings will have to figure out what to do with your parents’ home, vacation house, and other possessions after both of them have died. Perhaps you think your family can do this conflict-free. Those who have lived through the experience advise: Think again.

Legal advisers say the legal and financial considerations typically are straightforward. It’s the emotional issues that complicate the process.

One major issue you’ll face is to decide the fate of your parents’ home Keep it? That means paying for insurance, property taxes, maintenance, and other expenses. Sell it? That requires decisions about when to sell, the selling price, and whom to select as the real estate agent. All these issues can spark disagreements.

Potentially even more contentious, legal experts say, is dealing with a family vacation home. People feel emotionally attached to this property, so selling it can feel like abandoning fond family memories. But keeping it comes with substantial costs, such as taxes, maintenance, and so on. How will you divide those costs fairly when heirs don’t use the property equally? Legal advisers recommend creating a limited liability company (LLC) to spell out the terms.

You’ll also have to figure out what do with all your parents’ possessions. There are different ways to ease the process of determining who gets what. You could have a family auction, for instance, in which each gets a set amount of play money to spend. Or parents could stipulate in their wills how certain items are to be distributed.

Some parents go a step further. They leave behind a letter to guide their offspring through the entire process of liquidating family assets. In their last action as parents, they convey a simple message: “Be nice to each other and show mutual respect.”

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