General Question

ftp901's avatar

What is your opinion about whether you are entitled to an inheritance from your parents?

Asked by ftp901 (1276 points ) August 10th, 2012

Background:
– my parents have been divorced for decades
– I have one sibling and we are very close to my mom
– my father has been involved in our life and cares about us but has always been hands off and left all the upbringing to my mom
– we have a civil relationship with him but don’t really love him
– no one in the situation is rich, just middle class

My father recently drew up a will and told me and my sibling what it outlined. He wants to leave everything to his wife (not actually married but have lived together for 20 years) except for a small investment which will go directly to me & my sibling. His intention is that his wife will eventually leave everything to us since she has no children and we’re basically her stepchildren – she says that’s what she wants to do. Me and my sibling had different reactions to this news and I’d like to get other people’s opinions because I’m wondering if my opinion is in the minority. I was surprised by my sibling’s reaction, although I can understand it.

Sibling #1’s opinion:
Bad news. He should be concerned about our security and as such should give us an equal share. We deserve it because he hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to give us a lot during our lives. It’s his responsibility as a parent and grandparent. His wife may change her mind and not give us anything in the end.

Sibling #2’s opinion:
That’s fine. People should be able to leave their stuff to whomever they want and that wish should be respected. We’re not entitled to anybody else’s money, including our parents. We are responsible for ourselves and capable of paying our own way. Besides, his “wife” deserves it because she’s put up with him for several decades.

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36 Answers

chyna's avatar

I don’t think anyone is entitled to anything. Any money your parents may have is theirs to give to anyone they want to give it to.

BosM's avatar

Sibling # 2 has the right attitude, although Sibling # 1 is right to be concerned that the last Will and Testament should be irrevocable as to your fathers wishes and the step mother should not be allowed to change that. IMHO

tinyfaery's avatar

As if…hahaha.

#2

ftp901's avatar

@BosM I should have made clear that the part about the wife giving us everything when she dies isn’t in his will. It is apparently in hers and she has also told us that that is her intention. But, of course, anything could happen and that isn’t necessarily the way it will play out.

filmfann's avatar

I begged my Mom to leave all of her money to Billy Ray Cyrus, since he made her happy.
She didn’t, and I had to be the executor of her estate. My 2 sisters and brother were often unhappy with decisions I made (like selling her house).
I never wanted the money. It wasn’t mine, so I never expected it.

ftp901's avatar

@tinyfaery are you laughing at #1’s opinion?

Supacase's avatar

It would be terrible to leave a partner of 20 years in a financial bind. I do believe she should be one of his primary considerations in making these decisions.

His provisions for you and your sibling support the “civil” relationship status you mentioned. No one, including children, are entitled to any inheritance. It is a gift, not a payout.

It does sound as though he and his wife/partner are taking his children into consideration in their plans. My opinion is to be grateful.

JLeslie's avatar

Well, if he wants a certain amount of money to go to his children he shouldn’t rely on his wife to do it. Once the money is hers, she can do what she wants. At the same time, I completely understand wanting to make sure his wife is secure if he dies first. He needs to strike the balance of what he thinks is right. It’s not so much that I think a child is entitled to an inheritance, but if their is an inheritance to be given it needs to feel fair to me. If my parents used their last penny before they die I would be fine with it, but if I received nothing and a new spouse got everything, I would be pretty annoyed.

Does your dad’s SO have children?

My mom had a friend (we will call her Mary) who when her father died he left all his land to his second wife. The land was worth a lot of money, a very big parcel in NY state. Mary was the child of her dad and the second wife. When the second wife died, all the land went to Mary. The children from Mary’s father’s first marriage, who he did always keep in touch with, and one actually lives in a small house on the land, felt cheated and asked for part of the land. We all thought Mary should split it up, we can’t imagine he meant for his first children to get none of it, especially since one lives on the land, but Mary didn’t feel she had to or wanted to. It went to court and Mary won, but she has allowed her step sister to continue living there.

My grandmother dated and basically lived with a man (we will call him Joe) for many years after my grandfather died. His wife, who had passed away was a close dear friend of my grandmothers. My grandparents and they had met in college, they all loved each other. Very very close friends. They raised their children together. Anyway, Joe was a wealthy lawyer and investor. He loved to give my grandmother beautiful things, even though many times she refused what he wanted to buy, and they travelled all over the world, often with another couple who were close friends. Joe said he was going to change his will to include my grandmother, he had stated to his close friend, also a lawyer, what he wanted to do. When he died my grandmother was not in the will. We thought for sure his children would give her something, but they didn’t. The close family friemd they travelled with even spoke to his son, and told him what his father had said he wanted. Didn’t matter. Literally they had millions, and even just $100k would have been at least a nice gesture. Acknowledge what my grandmother meant to Joe. Joe’s son was a lawyer too. We don’t know if Joe actually did write a new will, and Joe maybe got rid of it, or if Joe never actually did get around to it.

MilkyWay's avatar

Number 2 has the better way of thinking.

wundayatta's avatar

Some people have a sense of entitlement. This could backfire, because if they don’t get what they are expecting, they are likely to be very bitter.

Personally, I think it makes most sense to expect nothing and be grateful if anything comes my way. I don’t like sibling number one’s attitude. If that were my son, I’d be tempted to cut him out of the will entirely, and have everything go to sibling number two after my wife passed. Or have his half go to some charity.

JLeslie's avatar

@ftp901 It can’t be in his will. Once he gives the money to her, it’s hers. She can change her will at any time. Hopefully, she will honor your dad’s wishes concerning what is left of the money and it will be given to you and your sibling.

chyna's avatar

There is no guarantee that the wife/S/O will even have the money to leave anyone after her death. She may have to have care givers or an extended stay at a nursing home that will take all of the money, so no one should be counting on that money. An inheritance is a gift, not a given.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Unless one or both children have a disability that prevents them from working and/or supporting themselves, I don’t see anything wrong with this arrangement.

Here is another way to look at it: I would rather end up with zero inheritance than saddled with my father’s debts. Inheritance is a bonus; not an expectation.

bewailknot's avatar

Inheritance tears families apart. I did not feel entitled even though it would have been nice – so I guess I agree with sibling #2.

If you want to be sure someone gets something entail it somehow. I know a woman who has changed her will, and her late husband would be appalled. They each came into their marriage with one son, and had no children together. Husband was always very hard on her son, and when her son was in college he stopped speaking to stepfather. Out of respect for her husband she had no contact with her son for many years. After hubby died she started rebuilding a relationship with her son, and the relationship with her stepson became strained. Now she has a new will, and his son will get almost nothing.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’m laughing at the idea of my dad having anything to leave me.

ftp901's avatar

@chyna that’s understood by everyone, hence, sibling #1’s concern

cookieman's avatar

My parents owed me nothing, least of all their money.

My entire life, my mother went on about how they had no money and could barely get by.

Few months before my father died (in 2008), he tells me they had “plenty of money” in the bank for years. My mother will be “just fine” after he’s gone, and he even “set aside something” for me and my daughter.

Right after he dies, my mother makes a point of telling anyone who’d listen that he left her penniless. Six months later she’s off to Italy for three weeks.

I never saw a dime. I never pursued it.

Again, they owed me nothing – but a little honesty would’ve been nice.

Judi's avatar

If he wants to do things right he and his significant other should draw up a trust. The trust would outline how things should be divided. She would maintain control and upon her death the property would pass to you.
To specifically answer, no one is “entitled” to anyone else’s stuff.

gailcalled's avatar

His and her intentions are interesting in the abstract, but have no meaning legally.

I agree that no one is entitled to anyone else’s money.

Bellatrix's avatar

#2 is on the right track.

Not sure about the law where you are but if I leave my money to my husband, I can put in my will that it is my wish that he then will those funds to my children after his death but there is no way I can insist on that. Once I will it to him, it is his property to do as he wants with. It may be different where you are.

JLeslie's avatar

@cprevite You captured my point, but stated it better than I did. When you mom dies (God forbid, spit three times, etc) she will likely will the leftover money to you I would think.

cookieman's avatar

@JLeslie: Exactly. While I don’t see the need to lie about it, it’s her money now. I hope she spends it all before she dies if it means she was happy.

JLeslie's avatar

@cprevite However, your situation is different than the OP, because it is your mom. It does sound like the OP’s dad secured some money to go to his kids, so it sounds reasonably fair in my mind.

ftp901's avatar

@JLeslie You’re right – we are getting something small in his will, not nothing

JLeslie's avatar

@ftp901 And, hopefully his SO will leave money to you. Does she have children? Also, if she dies first, it is a nonissue.

ftp901's avatar

@JLeslie – no, I believe I said above she has no children. We are her two stepchildren and she “thinks the world of us”. She does have other family members who I guess could contest the will – but won’t the law stand by the will?

JLeslie's avatar

@ftp901 The only reason I ask if she has children, is because she might over time change her mind about how much should go to them vs. you. I can’t imagine a family member being able to contest the will as written. I’m not and expert in these matters though. Maybe if she married after your father’s death that could also complicate things if she comingled funds with her new husband. It’s a lot of ifs.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Legally, only a spouse is entitled to an inheritance. And since your father has not actually married the woman to whom he wishes to leave his estate, not even she is (legally) entitled to anything (unless they live in Washington, DC or one of the ten states that still have common-law marriage).

Morally, I don’t see how anyone is entitled to an inheritance. A good father should be able to leave his children well off even if he dies penniless. A proper upbringing, after all, is more valuable than some property obtained late in life (this is assuming, of course, a normal lifespan for the father).

It also seems to me that an inheritance can be quite detrimental in some cases. Fathers who leave their children so much in the way of money and property that they never have to learn how to live on their own are allowed to remain dependents long after their caregivers have passed on. That seems a rather poor lesson to leave behind.

Given all that, then, it seems to me that Sibling #2 has the better reasoning. Moreover, Sibling #2 has an attitude that is better suited for the vagaries and trials of real life independent of the specific situation regarding inheritances. As such, that is the position to be recommended both in general and in this particular instance.

JLeslie's avatar

@SavoirFaire She is now legally entitled, because a will has been drawn up. That was probably the main point of doing the wills, to protect the SO.

ftp901's avatar

Thank you for your very thoughtful answers everyone – it provoked a lot of good conversation and it satisfied my curiosity about whether I was in the minority or majority.

For the record, I am sibling #2 so perhaps I was biased when writing the question. I tried to present both sides equally but I’m sure I probably skewed the question in my direction since most of you ended up answering #2.

My sibling’s reaction came as such a surprise to me and made me second-guess whether I was being too much of a push-over or question whether I was being too easily walked on (which I think people sometimes perceive me as). I can understand my sibling’s perspective. We have not had a model father, to say the least, and my sibling feels that he owes us something to compensate for the crap he has burdened us with throughout our lives. Sibling thinks that giving us something more substantial would be the right thing to do and that this is just another example of him showing how little he cares. My sibling is also looking out for the security of their children, which I understand and want as well.

I understand all of my sibling’s concerns and I agree in a way. However, my personal feelings about the intricacies of our relationships are outweighed by my belief that everyone is entitled to determine their own “will” and that should be respected. I don’t take it as a personal insult.

I’ve talked to my sibling about this and expressed my point of view, while also supporting their perspective. But, it didn’t seem to have any effect – they don’t agree with me and they are hurt over this situation. They spoke to my dad about it but that won’t change anything – nor do I think it should. I wish I knew what to say to make my sibling feel better about this.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@JLeslie My point was that spouses are legally entitled regardless of the existence or substance of a will. Legally, one cannot disenfranchise a spouse. If I write a will leaving everything to charity, it is null and void due to the fact that my wife has a legal right to a portion of my property regardless of what I say. This does not hold, however, of people with whom one is merely cohabitating.

JLeslie's avatar

@ftp901 I don’t think the argument is whether people have the right to determine their own will, that is a given. The debate is over what seems right. Maybe asking your sibling what she would want if she was the SO might give her a different perspective? She is only thinking from the child’s point of view, but your dad is thinking from the point of view of having a wife (I know they aren’t married, but for all practical pursposes I assume they live as husband and wife) and children he is not very close to. I think most parents look at children they are not very close and feel as far as inheritance goes they owe them less, not more. Of course, I cannot know the specific family situation you have, but my experience is children like your sister have a lot of anger, and usually do very little to help build or rebuild or establish a bond with a dad they resent. I know he is the father, and sounds like he probably should have or could have been a better dad, but as an adult if she wanted a better inheritance, she probably needed to behave more like a daughter to him. It sounds bad I know. Like I am blaming the children, and I don’t think that at all. Maybe she tried, and he was not receptive, again I have no idea. But, if he was always met by hostility from her, well, he may not feel like leaving money to a daughter who did not at least appreciate what he did do.

I could be way off though. That might not fit your situation at all. And, your dad has demonstrated he considered you both in his will. It seems to me they wrote a will that would be automatic if they had been married. In FL for instance, if someone dies without a will, the wife is given most everything, and small percentages are given to the children. In my family when a parent has died, usually the bulk of the money stayed with the wife, and token amounts were given to each child. Token meaning maybe 10–20% of the total estate. It varied.

Most parents leave the bulk of their money to their spouse, that’s how it works. The financial life was between the couple, and the spouse relies on what they have saved and panned financially. Children should not be relying on an inheritance. I mean that from a practical sense, not emotional sense.

@SavoirFaire I think mostly true. I don’t know if it is null and void, I think it is considered, but true the wife has some protections under the law no matter what the will says. Especially regarding her home, even if her name is not on the deed.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, “null and void” is a bit misleading. I simply meant that it will not be adhered to completely because it demands a violation of the law. So it is null and void in the sense that any illegal contract is, but not in the sense that no part of it will be honored.

trailsillustrated's avatar

It’s called probate, since from what I read they are not married? So you, and your sibling, if you so wish, can contest the will. I don’t know if it’s worth it. My father is wealthy but pissed away alot of his money. As he said, it was his, and his right to do with what he wishes. Everything goes into probate anyway, so you will certainly get a chance to state your position.

flutherother's avatar

A will is not just about money and property. It gives insight into a person’s deepest feelings and can be very hurtful.

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