Photo: Marc Royce
In the midst of family feuds, dollars and cents are at the heart of the discord. While I appreciate all that money can provide, it's tragic when it's used to divide us. Here are some ways to avoid common emotional minefields:
Never use money as a weapon or a shield. Money itself has no power; our actions, attitudes, and decisions give it influence. One reader told me about his father who gives his savings the power to make him live deceitfully. This man needs to strip away the financial factor so he can look at the true source of friction in his life.
Agree to disagree, then move on. Common ground isn't always attainable when working through a family rift. But if a relative is in distress, you still need to find a way for the family to help. Shift the conversation to a business plan devoid of personal issues. If unmanageable debt is the core problem, contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC.org; 800-388-2227) to find a local counselor who can help the debtor sort through options.
Family members aren't ATMs. The truth is that no one can afford to lend a buck if it means going into debt. Even if you do have money to spare for relatives who ask you for funds, consider it a loan, not a handout. Letting the borrower know that you expect repayment—and working out a plan that sets boundaries for both of you—may make him or her reconsider asking in the first place.
Separate when blending families. When you remarry, a prenuptial agreement is important for spelling out the inheritance rights of children from previous relationships. When combining families, you also need to draw up revocable living trusts that outline each of your inheritance and beneficiary decisions. Clue kids in to the logistics when they're grown. To find an attorney who specializes in estate planning, ask friends for references, or browse the listings at the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA.com).
From the October 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine