Friday Rant: Think Twice About The Cost To Your Heirs of Navigating Complex Inheritances

Some of us are so fortunate that we have vacation homes that have been in our families for years. But ah, even with that apparent good fortune, there can often be more than one bruising rub. Legacy homes invariably fall into the hands of many more offspring than the building forefathers and mothers ever thought about. And to make matters even worse, dying family patriarchs and matriarchs sometimes attempt to control the future of their heirs utility from the grave.

I happen to very close to a situation at the moment where family elders decided in their final days to bequeath a vacation home to their children in equal shares with the proviso that each child must agree to share equally in all expenses including taxes, maintenance, utilities and the like. In addition, if any one or group of heirs attempted to force the sale of the property that their share of ownership would automatically be forfeited. This forfeiture also applied to any heir who did not remain current with his or her payments to their share in the property up keep. In short, all the heirs are held captive to a liability that -- with adult families and children -- would almost need a fulltime concierge to manage each heir's practical return of shared ownership.

So what's an extended family to do in such circumstance? Well, it would be wonderful if all the heirs -- whether two, five or even seven -- were psychologically healthy and reasonable and able to sit down and come to some kind of equitable resolution about how to distribute the cost and use of what was once a place that held many fond memories for all involved. Unfortunately this is highly unlikely given ongoing sibling rivalry, pronounced life style variances and inevitable differential adult income levels. In fact, it's probably impossible.

Enter our presumed blind system of justice (read: just ice) and everyone lawyers up to protect their piece of the pie. By the time the dust and fur finally settles, the property gets sold and all the heirs are lucky to cover their legal fees. Not to mention the tragedy of many irretrievably fractured family relationships.

I've bothered to write this rant to possibly plant a seed that may prevent at least one adult family from being thrown under a bus by overly controlling, deceased parents and grandparents. If and when you are ever in a position to bequeath anything as potentially magical as a broad family legacy, please think the process through and focus upon providing your heirs with a maximum degree of flexibility, rather than prescriptive, destructive and controlling directives.

- William Busch

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