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Sibling money fights are rare, but there's a common cause: Parents

  • Only 15 percent of siblings fight about money.
  • Two-thirds of sibling money fights are about their parents.

Here's some good news for parents: Although your kids will fight with each other about plenty of things, money isn't often one of them.

Now the bad news: When they do have money quarrels, it's the parents who are likely at the heart of the problem.

Only 15 percent of adult siblings say they fight about money, according to a new report from Ameriprise Financial.

"The majority of siblings, about two-thirds, say they are talking about money," said Marcy Keckler, vice president of financial advice strategy for Ameriprise Financial. "They're having conversations about money, and they're going pretty smoothly."

The firm polled 2,700 adults in late 2016 for its Family Wealth Checkup, polling respondents age 25 to 70 with at least $25,000 of investable assets. For the siblings report, it focused on the subset of 1,900 respondents who said they have a sibling.

When siblings do fight about money, Ameriprise found, parents are at the center of the conflict 68 percent of the time. Some of the most-cited issues include how parents provide financial support to adult children during their lifetime or divide inheritance in death, and differences in financial support that adult siblings provide to an aging parent.

"There's definitely a push-pull when it comes to this topic," said Becky Krieger, a certified financial planner and senior director for wealth management teams at Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina, Minnesota.

"I don't think the parents want any conflict to surface regarding inequality," she said. "But there are a lot of people who don't want to talk about these subjects, either."

Intergenerational family money conversations can head off a lot of those common sibling disagreements.

Come up with a caregiving plan that helps define roles and responsibilities each family member will take on should an aging parent need support, said Keckler at Ameriprise Financial. That helps you make the most of your resources, financial and otherwise.

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"They may have unequal ability to provide financial support to their parents," she said.

Parents providing financial support to one child may find it's better to be up front about that with the rest of their children, said Accredited Investors' Krieger. Not only can that generate more aid and understanding for the sibling in need, but it also helps head off arguments after a parent's death.

"A lot of that support is uncovered at time of death," she said. "Questions can come up: Is this a gift or is it a loan?"

It's also smart to talk about your estate plan, especially if the plans entail something those heirs might feel is unexpected (such as leaving money to a pet, or giving everything to charity) or unfair (unequal financial splits among siblings). That advance notice gives your kids time to air their objections, and can also head off wills being contested.

"Articulate the rationale for any differences," said Keckler at at Ameriprise Financial. "It may not be self-evident."

In addition to those conversations in life, it can be helpful to include a "letter of intent" with your will and other documents, helping explain again why your estate is structured the way it is, said Krieger.