Dad’s Passing Renewing Sibling Rivalry and Friction Over Mom’s Estate

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Reader’s Question

It appears as if my sister is trying to steal my inheritance. There are just two of us children. I am the younger sister and live in New York City. Five years ago my parents, who were in their 80s, moved down to Florida. I had offered to take care of my parents here in New York, but my sister convinced my parents the wiser decision was for them to move to Florida where the cost of living was substantially lower.

Despite convincing my parents to live nearer to her, my sister always complained to me about my mother, calling her manipulative, selfish, and a liar — and on one occasion, describing her as EVIL. I urged my sister to spend my parents’ resources to get outside help taking care of them and suggested that we arrange for them to spend 6 months in New York and 6 months in Florida. She never accepted any of my advice.

When my Dad passed away 6 months ago, my sister stopped returning my phone calls and would not respond to emails. When I wrote to her angrily asking why she was doing this, she told my mother I was harassing her. My mother became so upset by this she told me to stop all communication and let things alone until my sister was “ready” to resume a relationship. My brother-in-law also called me to tell me the same thing. Needless to say, no reconciliation has yet happened, and I don’t believe that it will.

My Dad got sick 6 weeks before his death, and my sister began sending me melodramatic emails about the horror she was witnessing in the hospital and in the nursing home. While I realize watching a parent die is never easy, her response seemed to be over the top. After all, he was 92 and had lived a long and happy life. It was very difficult for me to get real medical information out of her because most of the communication was about how she was feeling and how it was all too much for her. Once he passed away, my sister went into overdrive: she would not allow me to make any decisions about funeral arrangements and didn’t even pay me the courtesy to wait an extra day for me to get my things together and come down to the funeral. I had to be on the plane the very next day, and there was no room for compromise on anything.

Aside from all the pain and upset this brings to me, my friends believe from what I tell them that my sister is maneuvering to steal my inheritance. I still wonder if she is suffering from some kind of mental collapse or adverse side effects of her anti-anxiety medication (which she has been taking for 15 years now). When I suggested she might need some help, she told me I was just trying to get my inheritance early and broke all contact with me.

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My sister has sole power of attorney as the executor of my parents’ estate and also has her name on all of my mother’s assets (for convenience). My intuition tells me I need to speak to a lawyer to protect myself and also stand up for my rights.

Psychologist’s Reply

The loss of a parent and inheritance issues often drive wedges into otherwise cordial relations among siblings, as well as rekindling old rivalries. You certainly have a right to protect your legitimate interests. But remember, you still have a surviving parent who is elderly and needs respectful care. You and your sister will have to put your differences aside for the present. In the meantime, whether you consult with an attorney, a therapist, or both, it’s important that you use your mother’s resources to help secure her needs before battling with your sister over any remaining estate.

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