I saw the word “inheritance” today, and thought “Oh, my goodness! That can be a sad word to write about!”
Surprised I write “sad”? Well, the word inheritance almost always has some negatives attached to it. Even if you’re the only niece or nephew of a childless elderly aunt who wills their entire estate to you, you at least usually grieve their loss to some degree, hopefully. The money and/or real estate might be welcome to help add to your retirement nest egg or give you the chance to travel or spend on things you normally wouldn’t have been able to. That’s nice, but this scenario is an ideal one. Way too often there ARE other “want to be inheritors” in the picture.
I have seen many families broken up (or at least had rifts caused) because of inheritance. I’ve read about such break ups and rifts extremely often in ethics or social question type newspaper columns (like a Dear Abby column). Feelings are hurt, there can be some greed and anger involved, and also disappointments because of want or even need for the extra money, and similar feelings. A famous case of family anger from an inheritance issue was when the wealthy New York City socialite Leona Helmsley willed her entire estate to her dog instead of her children.
How often does one “favorite” child get most of an inheritance (or a particular desired object) when the “not so liked or close children” get none? How often does a charity get most or all of an inheritance when children (some maybe even in true financial need) get nothing? Sometimes these “slights” can be a complete surprise to such children. Sometimes the slights are just another rejection or slap in the face from the departed beyond their life, that they too often divvied out when alive.
Definitely the ideal situation is for a parent or other relative to be as fair (and equal) as possible to the likely (or usual) inheritors. I think the future departed one should discuss issues of inheritance with the future inheritors, ideally with them together to negotiate as fair of a distribution of inheritance as possible. Even if one person is disappointed in not getting “Mom’s favorite necklace”, perhaps getting two of something else sentimental might ease the disappointment. Distributing some of that wealth before death can also help, in some cases, and may even be beneficial financially (saving on inheritance taxes). Sometimes, though children or others may benefit (or want) inheritance, having most or all of the inheritance go to a charity that most or all family/friend survivors can be happy about is a compromise. For example, if mom died of breast cancer, willing all one’s money to benefit research for a cure could be acceptable to family left behind.
Obviously, my point to this post is that way too many families are ruined because of inheritances (or lack thereof). That, to me, is a sad fact. Family love and support are supposed to be the richest parts of people’s lives. Now in the holiday season, the break ups of family are most deeply felt. What perhaps used to be a group of 12-20 family members at the holiday table might only be four or even only one lonely soul.
I am still very close to my immediate blood family (my dad, my siblings and their children), but I have grown apart from my extended family. Some because of physical distance from me, some because of family loss/inheritance issues, and others because losing key people in the family seemed to break down the bonds that held the larger group together. When I read or hear people mention having close bonds with cousins, uncles, and aunts I become a little sad, because I don’t have them, at least not anymore. Being a middle-aged person, I have lost all of my grandparents, and their siblings. I know that I’m not alone in this. I ask myself if squabbles about…really anything…are truly worth this loss?
Consider reading my related post called “Family roots pulled up and separated“.