Portrait of two happy brothers

Forty years of estate planning, guardianship, and probate have given me an interesting perspective on sibling relationships. I have seen siblings at their best and their worst.

I have seen siblings cope with craziness, vindictiveness, and poor-to-no estate planning by their parents. I have also seen them work together seamlessly. I’ve seen thoughtful parents who do everything they can to minimize conflict, and I’ve seen careless parents who, intentionally or negligently, set their children up for failure.

I have had more contested cases that involve siblings than I care to admit.

The Switch from Child to Caregiver

I have personal experience with siblings, being a middle child with an older brother and a younger sister. My siblings and I successfully worked through caregiving for our mother crippled with dementia and our father stricken with fatal cancer.

You could say that I’ve seen siblings from both sides now.  This column shares the conclusions and recommendations from my perspective.

When a parental relationship flips from parents caring for children to children caring for parents, the world goes askew. Siblings who did not have to work together are suddenly thrust into decision-making roles. Bossy siblings naturally rush to the forefront. Bully siblings edge everyone else out of the way.

The Importance of Estate Planning

The important thing to remember is checks and balances. Parents who do an estate plan – a will and ancillary documents – can set this up.


If you are a parent, then never, ever, name siblings as co-agents. Do not name them as co-executors, co-agents under the power of attorney, or co-trustees. If you do, then you are pitting them against one another.

Separate Powers

Do separate powers. Naming one sibling as a financial agent and a different sibling as a medical agent gives you 2 children who are working together to make decisions in your best interests.

Never pit your children against each other. It might be amusing, but it destroys the sibling relationship and could result in guardianship for you.

Name a Disinterested Third Party, If Necessary

If you have a child who cheats, steals, has a criminal history or a mental illness, or is married to someone who does, then don’t name that child as an agent. Consider setting up a trust, and funding it, so that the child does not have a say in the management of your assets. It is not fair to saddle your other children with having to fend off bad behavior.

If you don’t have a child you trust, then name a disinterested third party as your agent or trustee.

Tips for Siblings Handling an Estate

For siblings, the recipe is simple.

Approach your role as a job. A lot of advice columns recommend constant communication with your siblings, but that is a bad idea if your sibling has a criminal history, nefarious intent, or a mental illness. None of the following 4 recommendations apply in that case.

1. Keep Your Siblings Informed

Your parents trusted you to make the final decision because they had to choose someone. Do not interpret that as a signal to cut out your siblings. Share the financial and medical information and ask for a consensus before a decision is made. It is lonely when the buck stops with you.

2. Consistent Communication

Do not cut your siblings off from communication with your parents.

3. Correctly Use the Money

Do not use their money for your purposes.

4. Keep Perspective

Siblings start the grieving process when a parent starts declining. Everyone grieves differently. Forgive the sharp words and turn your grief toward helping your parents and family. Emotion among siblings is normal.

Siblings are for life.

Estate Planning is Simple With Hammerle Finley Law Firm

Our experienced attorneys can help with your estate planning and ensure your children know their roles. Make your will as straightforward as possible and preserve those important sibling relationships. Contact the experts at Hammerle Finley Law Firm today. 

Virginia Hammerle is an accredited estate planner and represents clients in estate planning, probate, guardianship, and contested litigation. She may be reached at legaltalktexas@hammerle.com. This blog contains general information only and does not constitute legal advice.