End of Life Planning

2/28/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

The family issues over inherited land surprises one woman, who feels a strong pull to the property of her ancestors. Advice columnist Amy Dickinson suggests some ideas for managing the inheritance.

Dear Amy:

My father died four years ago.

I am my mother’s trust administrator and recently met with a lawyer to make sure I was doing everything right. My brother attended this meeting also.

Everything was fine until the issue of 200 acres of land my father owned was mentioned. My brother said we would sell it when the time came, and he told me that my youngest sister agreed. I was so surprised by his comment and said I did not feel that way at all!

This land has been in my family since the 1800’s. It is the original homestead of my ancestors and close to where I grew up. Both my great-grandfathers have roads named for them in the area.

Currently the land is farmed and taken care of by a close friend. I know the worth of the land and I understand completely why my siblings feel the way they do. I feel no anger or resentment toward them.

I discussed this with my oldest son and asked if he could work on a map where I could keep 20 or so acres. My son gave me those options and then said he thought I was thinking with my heart and not my head. He mentioned we don’t live close to this land, and it wasn’t like I would be driving by regularly to “visit” the area.

I know it sounds like I see this land as a memorial to my ancestors, but how do I sell it when I feel such a strong pull to it?

– Conflicted

Dear Conflicted:

If as a group you and your siblings end up jointly owning this land, you’ll have to arrive at a solution regarding what to do with it.

You need to think carefully about the future of this land, and research options. Your son seems to be indicating that he doesn’t have an interest in inheriting the land, and so if you held onto it and the next generation ended up selling it, would that serve your purpose?

You and your siblings might research ways to place the land in a trust. My family donated some of our dairy farm’s pastureland to our local land trust, and now people walk on trails through the area where Holstein cattle once grazed. It’s a very good feeling.

Purchasing a few acres for yourself and perhaps selling the rest to the farmer who currently works it might also be a solution for all of you.

I hope you can visit the property in order to honestly evaluate your attachment to it. Take lots of pictures. Understand that your family’s history in the area will always be there, rooted in place – even when you’re no longer guardians to this particular property.

That history will never change and knowing this might help you to be able to say goodbye to it.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from family issues over inherited land to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. 

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

Related: ‘Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation’

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Amy Dickinson