What is Fair?

When we were young, being fair was easy. We took turns on the swing. And if there was one piece of cake left, Mom had one of us cut it in half and the other one choose first.

As grownups being fair is more complicated. Whether you’re a parent ready to move on from the family home or siblings dividing up your parents’ estate, fairness comes into play. And differences abound: Siblings have different income levels. They spend different amounts of time and money meeting the needs of their elderly parents. Family possessions have different monetary values.

For some families, fairness seems easy to achieve.

My friend’s husband Bob is one of seven children who grew up in a large house in New England. When it came time for their mother to move to smaller quarters, she asked each of the children to list the top four things they would like to have from the house. Of the 28 items on the list, there was only one duplication and the two sisters who wanted the item worked it out amicably. Does it work that smoothly in most families? I doubt it.

What is fair?

Ask each other what is fair. Everyone has a different idea of fairness, and the answers may surprise you – and may even make it easier to divide up family items.

If differences rear up, try to avoid power struggles. Backing off and approaching the issue from another angle may help.

Respect each other’s differences. Remember that not everyone feels the same way you do about your family’s shared history or possessions.

Here’s the best advice given to us on fairness among siblings. Choose one item in the family home that best symbolizes how you feel about your family. This will help to give you perspective on the situation. The rest of the stuff is just stuff. Share your memories and move on.

Have you developed strategies for dividing the estate? How do you define fairness? We would love to hear your stories.


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