Thursday 17 January 2019

Dilemmas: Inheritance

Is it fair that my brother inherits more just because he has provided more grandchildren to my mum?

Dear Virginia, My mother always said that when she died she’d divide her estate equally between my brother and me.

But my brother has persuaded her to leave more to his larger family.

Of course I want my nieces to be provided for, but surely their portion could come from my brother’s inheritance, rather than taking a chunk out of mine?

Am I being churlish, since I am, in any case, going to be comfortably off?

Yours sincerely, Sorcha

> Virginia says

A will is never about money, it's about love. And my feeling is that a parent should always divide his or her estate fairly between the children. Otherwise there are going to be feelings of resentment between them and a feeling that the parent loved one of them better than the other.

Obviously, if one child has already had money given to it in its lifetime, or has special problems, those factors should be taken into account and discussed openly.

But your brother chose to have children. They didn't land on him by accident out of the sky. And it seems that he'll be just as comfortably off as you when she dies, so doesn't actually need her extra money.

My instinct is that when your mother dies you're going to have a row. Or, if not a row, feelings of righteous anger and misery, feeling your brother was always loved more than you. So why not bring the issues out into the open now, when they have a chance to be resolved, rather than wait for this timebomb to explode when you're all feeling raw and grieving?

One's inner emotions have a way of hammering away inside demanding, if not expression, at least recognition. What you mother is doing is, no-one could deny, unfair. What you have to do is stand up for yourself. Insist on having a discussion, first with your brother, then with your mother and, finally, the three of you. It won't be pleasant to talk about it now, but it'll be a lot more pleasant than waiting until it is irrevocable.

>The readers say

Do the right thing

I AM on the sidelines watching my step-daughter's family destroy themselves wrangling over what two of three siblings see as an unfair division of the spoils from their parents' estate.

Yes, in the end, one will have more than the others, like your brother. But if you are in any case going to be comfortably off, please don't rush into the boxing ring over this.

Raw experience (and quite a lot of recent research) shows that the kind of happiness that sustains us as human beings can't be bought with money — while money can bring a lot of misery. While I think your brother is making a mistake that he may live to regret, he has presented you with an opportunity to be generous-spirited, which you can always be proud of.


Make it fair

I WOULD advise you to speak with both your mother and brother, making the following suggestion, which, to me, has always seemed a fair option when dividing assets upon death.

If there is yourself and your brother plus “others” (grandchildren, for example) then suggest your mother splits her estate into three. Equal thirds to both you and your brother and one third to be split equally between the “others”. This has worked very well within my own family as we all feel we have been fairly treated.


Be the grown-up

NO, YOU are not being churlish, because what a minefield is the prospect of inheritance, made worse when it is a parent dividing an estate between children, for it goes straight to the heart of some of our deepest fears.

Even supposing you adore your brother (and I think you could be allowed some ambiguous emotions here if he has persuaded your mother to change her will) there will be the division, not only of the last slice of cake, but of your parents' attention and love.

You need to sit down with your mother and your brother (not his wife/partner) and say, “I don't want to appear mean, but I am having difficulty coming to terms with the decision you have both made.” Let them explain to you their reasons for this decision - your honesty should put them on the back foot.

You may just have to learn to live with the situation, but I am sure you will be the better person for having taken such a grown-up stance.


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Three months ago my father married again — my mother died four years ago when I was 20. I really resent this woman who refers to herself as my “stepmother”.

None of my siblings like her. They try to be polite and my brother says I should, too, but why? When I go home this cow is sitting on my mother’s settee, smiling away. I feel like refusing to speak to her.

Yours sincerely, Cathy



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