My great-grandparents were dairy farmers and I was lucky to see and remember the house my grandmother grew up in.  Nothing that today’s family of 7 would consider comfortable, the outhouse from the time prior to indoor plumbing still stood, unused, well into the 1980s. 

Grandma once shared how she and her 4 siblings bathed once a week, in the same tub of water, taking turns from oldest to youngest.  This was one of many stories of life growing up on the farm.

My great-grandmother outlived her husband for 17 years.  I can imagine her gentle yet stubborn German demeanor, saying out loud as it’s fabled, “I’ll just let the kids fight over it” in reference to what would become of the farm after her death.

Unfortunately, fight they did. 

This was my first lesson in how our relationship with money, like our relationships with humans, can be…..complicated.    

It still pains me that the outcome of my great grandparent’s disputed estate was that my grandmother didn’t talk to her siblings for the last 2 decades of her life. 

According to a law firm survey of 1500 disputes, the majority are among siblings, and the number one contested item…..physical property or land.

I’d like to say that in my family’s case, the dispute was widely about what would become of the land and farm, but developers had been anxiously waiting to develop and a financial windfall was the expectation. 

A Home Depot and Walmart now occupy the space.

I was in elementary school when this happened and will never know “the truth” of how that dispute escalated and unfolded, but now, as a parent, and financial professional I wonder….

  • What sense of responsibility did my grandmother feel she had?
  • Or had already fulfilled?
  • What planning had my great-grandfather done?
  • What was stopping my great grandmother from doing more planning?
  • How much of her plan did she communicate with her children, and how?
  • What would they have to say about what transpired among their children?
  • and so many more…..

There are some simple possibilities….

Perhaps it was simply a generation that held money as a sacred personal topic, even within family?

Perhaps my grandmother was intimidated at the process of estate planning?

Perhaps she thought her husband had already taken care of it?

Perhaps she didn’t really care what happened?

Perhaps my grandmother’s generation, having survived The Great Depression, were entrenched in resource protecting strategies so a dispute seemed the only logical path forward?

And there are more complex possibilities ….

Perhaps she conflated the farm with love and affection toward her children and couldn’t see how to adequately divide it (or didn’t want to)?

Perhaps she liked the idea of holding the inheritance “hostage” to encourage certain behaviors?

Perhaps she was deeply unhappy and delighted in the idea of pending conflict?

Again, I’ll never really know what happened, but exposure to that dispute, and the multi-generational ramifications of it, is part of what put me on this career path. 

In a world where goods and services are needed for survival, money becomes a tool that is easily abused, blamed, and conflated with other critical human needs like physical security and emotional support. 

It’s made worse by a financial industry that generally insists financial decisions aren’t “supposed” to be emotional, they’re “supposed” to be clearly logical and quantifiable. 

So, if your relationship status with money is “complicated,” you’re in good company.   Clarity and simplicity are possible, and probably easier to achieve than it seems.  A powerful and wonderful first step is simply to acknowledge and honor the complexity and history that brought you to whatever your relationship status is today.

Be kind to yourself and others,    

Jen Sapel (she – her) ChFC® WMCP