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The deeper reasons for sibling disputes

On Behalf of | May 6, 2019 | Uncategorized

A lot of sibling disputes make the division of a parent’s estate more difficult than it has to be. These disputes take many forms. One sibling gets an item that the other wanted, and they contest that the will didn’t reflect their parents’ true wishes or that the other sibling used undue influence to sway their decision.

Maybe one sibling feels slighted when the bequests don’t give equal amounts to everyone, leaving some siblings with more than others. Maybe they get a joint property — like the family home — and then they argue endlessly about what to do with it.

Proper estate planning can help avoid many of these issues, but you also have to look a bit deeper. The reasons for siblings disputes may have their roots in things that happened when the children were young.


One such issue is potential favoritism. Maybe a second-born child always feels like their parents loved the first-born child more. When they get the will, they don’t think it’s equal, even if their parents tried to make it so. They automatically assume that their parents are still showing favoritism, even if they are now in their 50s and have been living on their own for decades. That old impression that formed during childhood never goes away.

This gets even more pronounced when there is any apparent inequality. For example, maybe the parents gave the first-born a $100,000 loan when they bought a house 20 years ago. The second-born assumed their sibling would get $100,000 less in the estate plan to make up for it, but the will says that each person should get equal amounts. This can lead to frustration, anger and disputes.

Evolutionary rivalry

Researchers who study why rivalries exist between children often simply point to evolution. If the parents preferred one child over the other, that helped the child significantly over the course of human history. They’re hard-wired to do all they can to become the favorite, even at the other’s expense.

“Two hundred years ago, half of all children did not make it out of childhood,” noted one professor of psychology. “The intensity of sibling competition makes much more sense when you realize that very small differences in parental favoritism could determine whether a child is taken to a doctor or not.”

The kids may not realize that this is the reason they want to become the favorite or the reason it stings so much when the other child seems to have more of the parents’ love, but it still drives their actions, attitudes and relationships with each other.

Working through a dispute

It’s important to understand how these issues may cause a dispute. When one arrives, heirs must know what legal options they have in Illinois.

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