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Timely update to parents’ will prevents sibling discord

Timely update to parents’ will prevents sibling discord

  • Updated

Sarah awoke to the phone ringing beside her bed. It took her a few moments to figure out what was going on. It was 11 o’clock at night, and she had only been sleeping for an hour.

She expected the call to be from her folks. They were vacationing in the Pacific islands and called last night to say hello.

The man at the other end was brief and to the point. He was sorry to say that Sarah’s parents had died in a car accident earlier that day.

The next few days were a blur with travel and funeral arrangements.

Sarah was the oldest of four children who all lived in the same area. Sarah and her husband farmed with her parents. Her two younger brothers were a teacher and a banker. Her sister, who was 10 years younger than her, was married to a factory worker.

Although they lived different lives, they were still close as adults.

Before Sarah’s parents left on vacation, Sarah encouraged and even pleaded with them to update their wills. Much to Sarah’s surprise, they met with a lawyer before they left. Sarah’s parents had always been unwilling to share how they wanted the inheritance divided up.

Her parents owned 400 acres of reasonably good farmland. Most of the land was close to the home place and all had been paid off over the years. Sarah and her husband, Bill, farmed with her parents and moved into the original farm house 10 years ago. They had also purchased their own land and rented several hundred acres.

After the funeral, Sarah and her siblings met at the lawyer’s office. Before the lawyer explained specific provisions of the will, he reminded them that this will had been drawn up just a few weeks before they left on their trip.

The lawyer had been personally involved with their parents, and he knew what they were about to hear was precisely what the parents had in mind.

Sarah’s brothers and sister were to receive 80 acres of farmland. Sarah and her husband were to receive the home farm, which was 160 acres, along with the buildings.

The balance of her parents’ estate, including investments and machinery, were to be split equally among the children. Sarah received the right to purchase all farm equipment at 80 percent of its appraised value. Their other investments would be shared equally with their heirs.

Sarah’s parents had carefully selected specific 80-acre parcels of ground to benefit each of their four children. Sarah’s older brother was a hunter and outdoorsman. His 80 acres contained 15 acres of timber, which was good for hunting. It also had a building site on a paved road. He could build a summer cabin or house there.

Sarah’s other brother who worked at a bank received an 80-acre parcel of land close to Sarah’s. For many years he had considered putting up a hog building. This parcel would be a good fit for him.

Sarah’s only sister received an 80-acre parcel of land about 3 miles away from the home place. This parcel was purchased by her parents later in their farming career. Sarah’s sister was not interested in farming, and her siblings were not particularly attached to her parcel. This would allow her to sell her land if she desired.

Sarah’s parents also included a provision in their wills giving Sarah and her husband the first option to rent the tillable portions of her siblings’ farmland. The rental rate was to be set by the Iowa State University average for their county.

A second provision in the wills gave Sarah and her husband the first option to purchase her siblings’ farmland if it was ever sold. It required the sales price to be the appraised price and was designed to prevent Sarah from competing against others in an auction. Each of the siblings had the right to farm their own land if they were not interested in renting it to Sarah.

The will also contained a brief explanation why Sarah was to receive two 80-acre parcels while everyone else only received one.

After farming with them for 35 years, Sarah’s parents believed Sarah and her husband had helped them accumulate and pay for all their land. Their extra portion reflected the time and effort they contributed to the parents’ farming operation.

During the next few weeks there were some mixed feelings among the siblings. However, as time went by, each became content with what they received. They realized their inheritance was what they needed and desired.

Because Sarah's parents had a will and had given some thought to the needs of their children, the outcome of their estate was far better than most. Not only did their four children stay close after the funeral, they also gathered together for Thanksgiving dinner for many years.

As Sarah and her siblings were cleaning out their parents’ house they came across an earlier will prepared 15 years prior.

The previous version only contained simple provisions to split up their estate equally among their children.

Sarah and her siblings were glad their parents had taken the time to consider the differences between their children and prevent future problems.

A little preparation and explanation of your actions can be the difference between a happy family and one that is broken.

Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at

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