My father and stepmother are getting older, and last year my father had a heart attack. He recovered nicely, but it made all of us wonder about the future. I know they don’t have a will—they tell me they don’t have enough assets to bother willing them to anybody—but they do have a home and a small, debt-free business. I’m worried things may get messy after they pass away (I have several siblings and several stepsiblings). What advice can you give? Should I hold my tongue for the sake of peace? Or does that mean our family is just delaying this fight for a later day?
Your compassion and respect for family can include wise planning. It is not impersonal to think about stewarding the legacy of your parents’ hard work.
You also have the challenge of blended family dynamics. Even if you all get along now, but it can be difficult when wills are read and estates are settled. Previously harmonious families often become embroiled in controversy as long-standing emotional issues come to the surface.
Steps for Greater Peace
Here are a few steps you can take as you tackle this project.
As you initiate this process, engage in unceasing prayer, knowing the Lord hears your cries and delights in giving wisdom (Phil. 4:4–9; 1 Thess. 5:17; James 1:5; 3:15–18). The aim is true peace—concord, harmony, and healthy relationships. So pray for yourself (to have a soft heart and to listen humbly) and for those you’ll be talking to (for calm patience, ears to hear, and wisdom).
2. Talk with your family.
It sounds like you already approached your parents and were rebuffed. If you have like-minded siblings, it may be worth getting their input. Together, your concern may carry more weight with your parents. An appeal to family peace and honoring your parents’ good work can help frame the process.
If you need objective input, consider asking a pastor or trusted outside friend for help. The good news is that wills need not be complex. Clarity will help surviving members remember well and nurture their relationships without acrimony.
3. Contact a lawyer.
Assuming your folks are willing to make a will, ask the professional preparer to compose it with the most equitable language possible. The executor can be an outsider for objectivity, or the eldest from each family branch can do it together.
4. Consider other assets.
In moments like these, it isn’t always money that family members argue about. Treasured photos, keepsakes, or furnishings are often in dispute. When possible, encourage your parents to designate things ahead of time—either giving them away while they are alive or writing them down in the will. Many small disputes can be anticipated and handled ahead of time. These moments often bring out the best and worst of our human condition!
Biblically, preparing for the future is honoring your father and mother well. Though challenging, it is better to endure a bit of strife now to prevent greater conflicts later. When we approach these moments with humility, resisting the distorting work of our adversary, and serving a legacy of godliness, we can expect the Lord’s nearness and help (James 4:6–8; 1 Pet. 5:5–11).