Over the next fifty years, Americans will inherit as much as 136 trillion dollars. And while most of us won’t get a great deal of money, what we do get could have the power to change our lives. Inheriting money can give you a certain amount of freedom, but receiving an inheritance can also bring up issues that neither you, nor your family anticipated.

Why problems crop up.
Emotions seem to be at the heart of all problems that arise after a will is read. "Inheritance issues cause problems because they tap into psychological and emotional issues between parents and children that have not been dealt with," says Steven Hendlin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Newport Beach, CA and author of Overcoming the Inheritance Taboo. "And they are exaggerated by dealing with the dying process and death of a parent."

Problems also arise because family members don’t feel that everyone is treated fairly. “Anger and guilt are two common reactions,” says Thayer Willis, author of Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth: A Life Guide for Inheritors. “People make assumptions about how things should be, and then you’ve got those added into the relationship dynamics.”

Inheritance guilt.
While it’s apparent that those who don’t feel they were justifiably treated might be angry, those who get a lot may also have an emotional response. Inheriting money can cause guilt when heirs are left wondering why they inherited when others didn’t, or why they got so much more than everyone else.

“When my mother passed away she left me the house, while my brothers got nothing,” says Sarah, 29. “I understand why: because I had been living with her and taking care of her while she was dying, and my brothers were off doing their own things. But it’s put a terrible strain on our relationships. I’m thinking of selling the house and giving them a share, just so we can all be happy again.”