Monday, November 9, 2020

Smothers Brothers Syndrome

Someone from an internet fitness discussion forum suggested that I might consider sharing my professional knowledge on my Pierini Fitness blog.  I honestly never considered it until now and have decided to share, here, something I wrote a couple years ago that appeared in my now retired monthly client e-newsletter.  I hope you enjoy what follows which I’ve slightly modified for here.

Smothers Brothers Syndrome - A serious ailment your adult children heirs may become afflicted with after your passing related to inheritance and unresolved emotional relationship issues with you and their siblings. Those suffering from this ailment are predisposed to unpredictably bellow to their siblings, "Mom always liked you best."

The stuff I write about oftentimes has its origin in my memories from long ago. One such memory is from 50 years ago when I was an entry-level teenager. Then, I would regularly watch a weekly television show called The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a comedy and variety show television series hosted by brothers Tommy and Dick Smothers. The show's content appealed to a youthful and rebellious audience because of its audacious political satire and guest musical entertainers who played the modern music younger people enjoyed.

While our parents and grandparents preferred to watch Bonanza, an also-popular western television series on the other channel, we wanted to watch Tommy and Dick Smothers. This was circa late 1960's, a period of youthful unrest and social rebellion from the status quo with which our elders were comfortable. While its political satire content is tame by today's standards, in the late 1960's, it regularly stood on and crossed the line of what was considered permissible for television.

What I enjoyed most was when brothers Tommy and Dick would sing a song while strumming their musical instruments and engaging in sibling conversation. Tommy played the guitar and Dick played the bass. Predictably, they would eventually start arguing. Older brother Tommy had this "slow" persona to his character while younger brother Dick came across as having a superiority complex. This character dichotomy fueled their entertaining "conflict." Eventually, Tommy became flustered and resorted to delivering his audience-pleasing favorite line, "Mom always liked you best."

This “Mom always liked you best." bellow of Tommy Smothers is still alive and thriving in the family dynamics of clients I've served, particularly when parents are deceased, and their surviving children heirs are left waiting for their planned inheritances to be distributed.

Sometimes, their inheritances are clearly defined in wills and trust documents while other times there may be ambiguities best described as both intentional and unintentional. The result is sibling conflict fueled by deeply embedded emotions formed long ago, best-described by Tommy Smothers' famous-saying of "Mom always liked you best."

I call this behavior the "Smothers Brothers Syndrome" and it's a real force to reckon with among siblings in the post-mortem period of their parents' passing.

I've witnessed some of the most appalling behavior imaginable among siblings over perceived inequities of inheritances from their parents' estates and trusts. And, unconscionable behaviors such as fighting over property that should go to them rather than their sibling(s). I've witnessed one sibling filing a police report for alleged criminal acts committed by another sibling. Some of what I've witnessed is best described as "nasty."

Toss in another variable of a parent who remarries and provides for his or her surviving spouse different from what adult children believe is "right."  Then, what you might hear is "Dad liked my Mom better." or "Mom liked my Dad better."  Again, it often gets nasty as in real nasty.

Years ago, when my office was at a different location, there was an exercise room on the first floor. I would often go there to exercise during lunch or after work. One person I would regularly see there and engage in conversation with was Ernie, a trust litigation attorney. Ernie made his living, and a comfortable one at that, representing surviving spouses and adult children beneficiaries, and executors and trustees of wills and trusts, who were at odds with each other. Sometimes the conflict could easily be resolved while at other times, expensive and lengthy litigation in front of a judge was necessary.

Are these post-mortem conflicts destined to happen in all cases? 

No, but my experience has been they're more likely to occur in estate and trust administration of a deceased client's wealth transfers to heirs.  Like a nice and high-priced steak, sometimes these conflicts are rare or medium rare, while at other times they're well-done or extra well-done.

What's the lesson for you?

Be aware of an above-average risk for post-mortem conflict among your heirs and do your best to minimize the likelihood of such conflict by how you define, refine and modify your wealth-transferring intentions in your trust and will documents.

Finally, be aware that Tommy Smothers had it right when he uttered over 50 years ago that "Mom always liked you best." Do your very best today so your heirs and other loved ones will not encounter episodes of the Smothers Brothers Syndrome.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

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