The recent passing of Florence Henderson made me nostalgic for The Brady Bunch, tv’s iconic sitcom about a blended family. Bringing it into the 20th century, let’s imagine that Mike Brady passed away many years ago, leaving his entire estate to his wife, Carol. She invested wisely, put all six children through college, and never remarried. Greg Brady and Marcia Brady are both married with children and live in Southern California. The four younger Brady kids (now adults) are scattered around the United States.
Carol took care of business and had a valid Will, providing equally for the six children with respect to the family home and her stock portfolio. But she never had a conversation with any of them about her personal property. The books, paintings, jewelry, photo albums, childhood memorabilia, china, silver, and crystal filled up every inch of the house. The woman never got rid of a thing!
After the funeral, the adult children gathered at their childhood home to start the emotional process of going through their mother’s things. Dividing up the remainder of their dad’s personal items went smoothly. Greg, Peter and Bobby took what resonated with each of them, and nobody disagreed. But when it came time to dealing with Carol’s things, all six kids had a voice. Greg wanted the piano, and so did Cindy. Marcia and Peter’s wife argued about the jewelry. Jan just sat in the kitchen and cried while she looked through the old photo albums. Bobby and Peter were bickering in the garage over the sporting goods and tools.
Has this happened to anyone you know? Have siblings argued over their deceased mother’s paintings? Her afghans? Her Le Creuset cookware? Probate courts don’t want to get involved in deciding about the Tupperware, so most estate planning attorneys encourage their clients to make a list of the personal property and write down who gets what. But that task may seem overwhelming to many aging parents who opt out of making those decisions in the hopes that their adult children and stepchildren will figure everything out amicably. But what if they don’t agree? What if that stupid crystal whiskey decanter causes Cindy and Peter to stop speaking to each other? What if Greg and Marcia both feel they’re entitled to keep their parents’ wedding album?
The most obvious way the Brady Bunch could have avoided this conflict is if Mike and Carol had talked to their family members to ask if anyone had something specific he/she wanted from the family home. Making the time to have this type of conversation with the family is essential, not just to figure out who gets what, but more importantly, to share stories about the past. While the tangible items may not live forever, the stories behind them can be passed from generation to generation.
Since the Brady Bunch didn’t get together to talk about their parents’ things while Mike and Carol were still alive, now it might be a good idea for them to sit down with a trained family Mediator. A neutral third party can help each of the sisters and brothers do some uninterrupted speaking and listening in an effort to understand what’s important. At the end of the day, it might turn out that Bobby is the true piano player in the family, and Jan is the family historian. And a photograph of Carol’s beloved china and silver may have been enough to preserve the memory.
Channeling Carol Brady’s spirit of kindness and understanding might just perpetuate the legacy of kindness and understanding within all of our families. If you, or anyone you know is experiencing this type of family conflict, I can help. Please call me to set up an initial consultation at no charge.