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Question

 

Dear Gramps.

What do the scriptures and prophets say about parents leaving inheritance to their children? We had a meeting with my siblings discussing dividing the properties that our late father left us. Some are opposed to  individual ownership and that all properties (land and houses) should be managed collectively because it would be unequal and unfair. I personally believe/prefer private property and personal responsibility. But if it can’t be divided, nothing but ruin will happen.

Radinika

 

Answer

 

Dear Radinika,

The safest course for me to take (and I have before in the past) is to follow the example of the Savior when placed in a similar position:

And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. 

 

And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? 

 

And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:13-15).

First and foremost, regardless of the scriptures and opinions I share, such family issues are best handled with a family council. It sounds like you’ve taken the first steps and had some initial discussions, but you haven’t arrived at a solution. Well that’s the nature of councils! Lots of discussion happens and then it can become a revelatory experience. With respect to inheritance specifically, I turned to the book of wisdom (Proverbs) and found the following:

“An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed” (Prov. 20:21).

I’m reading that you and your family need to exercise patience in determining a course to pursue. The heirs didn’t have these properties and funds in their name a month ago, so they can continue planning for themselves financially without it for the moment.

The concern about things being “fair” is perfectly understandable, but comes with a caveat. Knowing that at times an inheritance may “not be blessed”, because it may be used for unscrupulous or distasteful activities, the sage states

“A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren” (Prov. 17:2).

Simply put, not all heirs have to be heirs. The testator gets the privilege of deciding who gets what, and if an heir is not living up to the standards. In this case, the testator did not specify what should be done with the estate. Take this as a lesson to set your own affairs in order! Have a clear, written plan on the disbursement of whatever wealth you have. Specify what is to happen with any minors still under your care. I’ve even heard of some people going over these details while everyone is still alive to get the drama out of the way while no one is grieving.

With these lessons learned, let’s return back to the family council with the wisdom of Jesus. “[A] man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” The relationships you have with the people in that council are more important than the estate or even what happens to it. Keep that perspective in mind as you discuss whether to split it up or keep it together. It sounds like this is actually where your concerns are coming from. I would frame it that way in the discussion. “I really like you guys. I like spending time with you and visiting with you. I love you even though we don’t agree on everything. That’s why I’m concerned about pooling the estate together. You’ve seen how potentially divisive this one-time choice can be. Can you imagine reconvening every quarter? I value our relationship as family too much to be a part of this.”

Now there’s one more chapter I’d like to share with you that may have dubious utility to you, but I came across it and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Moses laid out some funny laws about inheritance (Leviticus 25). He divided up Israel according to tribe, and each tribe further divided the land according to the families in it. That land was always to remain in the family (much like the inheritance you’re discussing). To ensure that no outside tribe or foreigner reduced the size of the territory through aggressive purchasing, the land could not be sold. It was instead leased out, always to be returned in the Jubilee year (which occurred every 50 years). What’s more (and this may have some relevance to your family discussions), the next of kin always retained the right to buy the land back, even before the Jubilee.This way, if a landowner fell on hard times, he could sell the land and still keep it in the family. Or, if the landowner simply didn’t want to be a landlord, this option was available for the next of kin (“redeemer”) to lay claim to the land and keep it in the family.

Gramps

 

 

 

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