My dad, 96, passed away from kidney failure recently, and I’m the sole heir and trustee of the family trust. Both of my parents changed their will from their four children sharing the estate equally to me being the sole inheritor. I was their youngest and only daughter, and I was unmarried at the time.
My parents believed that my brothers, who were all married and have their own children, should be financially more stable with two incomes that afforded them large houses, luxury imported cars, expensive vacations, Ivy educations for their children. I, meanwhile, was laid off during every economic downturn.
I got married approximately a year before my dad passed. I’m thankful that my dad “gave” me away and grateful that he was able to spend time with me and my husband. We have not combined our finances.
‘Even though I’m married, I did most of the caregiving for both my parents, and I do not feel like I need to revert back to the old will.’
One week after our dad’s passing, my brothers came to me and told me that I should share some of the inheritance with them. I disagree because I feel that my parents, while they were alive, already gave substantial sums of money to them.
However, if I were to give some of the estate, should I give equal sums? My oldest two brothers are or will be retired from lucrative professions and received financial help. Their education was also discounted because our father taught at the university they attended. All kids paid for their own graduate degrees. The youngest brother has a retail shop, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, in California.
Even though I’m married, I did most of the caregiving for both my parents, and I do not feel like I need to revert to the old will. In addition, two brothers never called our dad while he was alive or even asked me, “How’s Dad?” One brother complained about how much he spent on Dad’s meals, although he received a sizable lump sum six years ago.
I’m concerned, since I have friends whose own older brothers sued them for inheritance. Do I really need to give them any money on behalf of the estate? Shall I include a “no contest” agreement if I give them money?
No. And yes.
No, you don’t need to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, or because you are fearful of what reaction you will get if you don’t bend to their will. Listen to your feelings and to your gut. And, yes, if you do decide to give money to your three brothers, by all means give more to your younger brother and ask all three to sign a “no contest” agreement. Be warned, however, that once you open that door to an inheritance, they will peek behind it and see lots of other bits and bobs they would like, in addition to the sum of money you have offered them.
Asking them to sign a no-contest agreement — which you should absolutely do if you decide to give them money — will also alert them to the fact that you are nervous that they will sue you. It will give them (a.) ideas about suing you for what they believe is rightfully theirs and (b.) leverage for further negotiations. Given what you told me about their financial status, and their lack of engagement with your father before he died, I suspect there was more to your father’s decision than merely your own modest financial means. Consult a lawyer. Listen to your gut.
Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. This is the moment to step out of your brothers’ shadows and refuse to do what they say. It’s sometimes not easy for people who are used to getting what they want not to get it. They want you to do as they say. They want an equal share of your father’s estate.
Learn to be comfortable with other people’s anger. Other people’s reactions to you are really none of your business, and your expectation of how others may react — accurate or not — should not influence your own actions. It gets easier with practice.
This is a good exercise in being your own person, free from the expectations of others. Your father, inadvertently or not, has given you an opportunity to do just that.
Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at email@example.com. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.
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