Sibling rivalry: Learn from Jacob and make a will


This week we wrap up the Book of Genesis. We have read week after week about siblings who don’t get along with each other. Sibling rivalries that led to murder, attempted murder, banishment, the selling of a brother, and more.

The Ramban (Nachmanides) has a principle that runs throughout Genesis and that is “ma’aseh avot siman l’banim” which loosely means everything that happened in the stories of the Avot (forefathers), serves as a “sign” for the sons. Rabbi Ezra Bick explains, “Ramban views this statement as saying that the actions of the forefathers metaphysically affect future generations, such that future generations play out some aspect of the forefathers’ actions and journeys, for better or for worse.”

Last week I wrote about creating a ‘legacy’. In this week’s Torah portion, we have the first instance of a last will. We read about Jacob blessing his sons and certain grandsons on his deathbed. At Yehuda Fogel refers to this as an ethical will. He writes, “Ethical wills differ in tone, character, and content, as they can range from a set of blessings, adjunctions, advice, or words of love and affection, or a pithy line or set of words that characterize one’s life or death.” He continues, “An ethical will is known as a tzava’ah in the traditional rabbinic Hebrew. When the prophet Yeshayah prophesies the passing of his fellow prophet Chizkiyah, Yeshayah urges “Set your affairs in order,” which might be an early instance of this term appearing in this context.

When sitting with clients when issues of estate planning come up, far too often I hear, “Our kids are great and get along so well with each other. After we pass, they will sort out the estate in a fair and equal way trust them.” I can tell you that even in the best of families, money issues bring out the worst in siblings.

I have mentioned this in the past, but I know of a family in the US where the parents passed away over 20 years ago. One of the siblings lives here and is sustained by charity. The siblings inherited a real estate portfolio worth over $70 million. One of the siblings is holding out selling, because he thinks he deserves a larger share than the rest. So, because they can’t all agree, the $70 million of real estate that they inherited, sits ready to be sold at least partially, but because one brother is holding out nothing has happened. Again, one sibling is living off charity, even though they have a conceptual net worth of more than $15 million. Just insane.

Joseph recognized by his brothers, by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois, 1863 oil on canvas, at the Musée Municipal Frédéric Blandin, Nevers (credit: Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois/Wikimedia)

After a parent dies, it is easier for things to evolve

This is by far the only case. I heard of another family that never finished dividing assets, because they couldn’t agree on selling the parents’ home. That has been going on for over 50 years! While these instances may seem extreme, I hear stories all of the time about inheritances stalled, family strife etc.

Learning from the Ramban, I can’t stress the importance of making a will. According to Investopedia, “A will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of your property and the care of any minor children. If you die without a will, those wishes may not be carried out. Further, your heirs may end up spending additional time, money, and emotional energy to settle your affairs after you’re gone.”

Lee Woodruff at writes about how proper estate planning can help keep sibling harmony. She quotes Lee Hausner, author of Children of Paradise: Successful Parenting for Prosperous Families, who says, “At the estate level, everything needs to be equitable; otherwise, we sow the seeds of ‘psychological cancer cells’. Unless there is some real reason why the estate plan should not be equal, you create the possibility of chaos in the family when they are gone.

“It’s easy for things to devolve into ‘Mom loved you more than me.’ Parents give to their children over a lifetime. With gifting, it doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly even. Parents can directly pay for things like education or family trips and can work out a way to balance things if one sibling is struggling and the other is well off. But in death, it’s important to think about keeping it equal, because you won’t be around to talk it out.”

In Israel, it can be even more problematic if you don’t have a will. Locally, when a spouse passes, the surviving spouse and children split the estate 50/50. The problems this can cause are for another article, but I know of cases where a mother was forced to leave her apartment, after the kids forced her to sell, against her wishes.

No matter how great you think your children are, do everyone a favor, and create a will. You will end up saving your heirs time, money, and lots of emotional energy.

May all the families of the fallen be comforted. May the hostages be released. May the wounded have a speedy recovery. May our dear soldiers be safe and protected.

The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. or its affiliates.

Aaron Katsman is the author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing (McGraw-Hill) and is a licensed financial professional both in the United States and Israel, and helps people who open investment accounts in the United States. Securities are offered through Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. ( Member FINRA, SIPC, MSRB, FSI. For more information, call (02) 624-0995 visit, or email [email protected].