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How Family Conflict Can Make or Break Your Personal Legacy (Part 1 of 2)

Family disputes, like those that arise after the death of a loved one, over a will, a trust or even in our elders’ final years when they cannot care for themselves – these are some of the most challenging of life conflicts.

In every conflict, there lies a tremendous opportunity . . . to create your own remarkable and honorable legacy.

Family disputes, like those that arise after the death of a loved one, over a will, a trust or even in our elders’ final years when they cannot care for themselves – these are some of the most challenging of life conflicts. Perhaps adult siblings experience conflict over where an ailing parent should live when they can no longer live unassisted. And the issue of who should care for the ailing parent can be very contentious.

What about the sad situation where a family member has passed away, and their will or trust was modified at the “last minute,” cutting out all children but one, from a significant inheritance? These are moments where hard feelings are created, in a hurry.

These disputes may at first glance seem to be about greedy, quarrelling siblings arguing over “stuff” or money. But more often, than not it’s the significance of the “message” a will or trust brings, and the message is typically received as a painful comment on an adult child’s worth.  Big reactions to the “message” a will brings are usually about feeling rejected, unappreciated or forgotten.

FAMILY CONFLICT AND LEGACY

Add to family conflict, the hustle/bustle of life. Our lives seem so complicated these days. Often, we get caught up in the day to day, bump and grind of traffic, life in a noisy world of social media, work, kids, etc.  Watching Facebook timelines is an interesting study in human behavior. Aren’t you amazed at how often we see FB “friends” barfing up all their personal gripes, preferences and complaints all over the Internet for everyone to see, comment upon and post a “reaction” to?

But in the big picture, are we filling our time with what really matters? The notion of a “legacy” is a big picture notion. After all, when asked “what legacy do you want to leave…?” you are really being asked about what overall picture, importance do you want to leave to the generations that follow?

What’s a legacy really about?  Is it about how many businesses you ran in your lifetime, how much money you made, or how famous you were?  For some people, that’s what they think of when they think “legacy”. But to me, a legacy boils down to:

• How you treated people

• How much value you added to people

• How well you used your God-given gifts to make this world a better place.

The answers to these questions easily help you see the type of legacy you have created:

• What kind of relationships did you foster?

• What kind of person were you, and what did you do in life that affected others?

We all make an impact on the lives of others, whether we acknowledge it or not. And that impact is your legacy. Think of the crabby old man who lived across the street when you were growing up. You know, the grandpa who growled at all the kids “stay off my grass!” when you were out walking the dog. The guy who was rude to his wife every time they came home from the market and left her to unload the groceries by herself. The guy who turned off the porch light and left a big note on his front door every Halloween “Don’t knock – No Candy Here!”.

Those memories are the aroma of the legacy that man left – grumpy, unkind, selfish, uncaring. If that’s what the neighbors saw, imagine how his family members and co-workers were treated. What a sad legacy!

No one remembers, in the long run, how much “stuff” you had or how pretty you were. What they remember is how you showed up in this world… how you did life, how you treated people. And if you treated people well, with love, dignity, respect…if you had a warm, positive approach to living and loving… that legacy makes people remember you with a smile.

And it’s that kind of legacy that makes people want to know more about you, and what your “secret sauce” was…the “why” behind your legacy. Wow! What a tremendous, positive impact we can have when we build our legacies with intention.

BUILDING A BETTER LEGACY, ONE CONFLICT AT A TIME

So, what does all this legacy talk have to do with family disagreements over a will, a trust, or the care of an ailing elder?  Everything.

Because, you see, in the midst of family disagreements, you will discover (if you look hard enough) that your legacy is being tested, and so is your integrity.

In every conflict, there lies a tremendous opportunity.  An opportunity for personal growth and increased self-awareness. An opportunity to show others in this world what you are truly, all about. And an opportunity to create your own remarkable and honorable legacy.

So, in the midst of family conflict, take some time to consider these questions – your answers may lead you to the right resolution of the dispute:

• What legacy did our elder loved one want to leave to this family and to their community?

• What possible resolutions of the family disagreement would help preserve our elder’s legacy?

• What kind of legacy do I want to build for my family and my community?

• What am I willing to “give up” or sacrifice in this family conflict to build an awesome, meaningful legacy of my life?

What is your idea of a remarkable legacy?   We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Written by Kelly Bennett

Kelly A. Bennett, Esq. is the CEO of Smart Court, a full-service mediation and arbitration firm in Temecula. Ms. Bennett and her partner, Retired Judge Sherrill Ellsworth serve as the area’s only judge-attorney mediation team, helping divorcing couples, businesses and organizations quickly and privately settle their legal disputes. For more information on how you can get your case out of the court and into settlement with the Bennett-Ellsworth team, at a fraction of the cost of traditional court, contact them at: 1-866-403-8690, email: info@SmartCourt.com and see the SmartCourt.com website for valuable information.

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