Splitting Heirs: Unequal Treatment Between Heirs

What happens when parents, in an attempt to “do what is right”, give more to one child than another after they are gone?

When my friend’s parents passed away a few months ago within weeks of each other, the last thing on anyone’s mind was who got what. The planning of not just one, but two funerals back-to-back was a heartbreaking experience for both my friend and her brother, and they were as united a front as I’d ever seen them. 


Fast-forward a few weeks to the reading of the wills. Both my friend and her brother thought they were pretty clear on what they were to be left, but it seems their father, a cantankerous old sod at the best of times, decided to throw a last-minute spanner in the works, upsetting the balance between siblings and opening a rift between them that may not be reparable. 

What Happened?

It seems the old man got a bee in his bonnet in his last months. Without his family’s knowledge, he changed his will to disinherit the brother from a large piece of family land he was meant to split with my friend, his sister. Instead, their father bypassed his son and daughter altogether, leaving the land to his grandchildren. This may have been ok, except that my friend has three kids and the brother has none. 


This triggered a time bomb that had long been waiting to explode. The brother had always felt their dad didn’t accept him and to him, this was a final “screw you” from the grave. Now he is taking his sister’s kids to court to try and extract his pound of flesh. Needless to say, it is destroying their family.  


What Should Have Happened

The saddest part is that was all preventable. An honest conversation beforehand to explain the reasons behind the decision may have helped. Perhaps the intention was to cut his son out, but just as likely it was that he wanted his grandchildren to get a piece of the pie, too. 


A discussion may not have stopped the anger, but at least it could have given his dad a chance to say his piece and give his reasons. It would also have given his son the opportunity to ask him to compensate him in another way so that he didn’t feel quite so snubbed. It also could have prevented the parent’s hard-earned assets being squandered on lawyer’s fees when they could have been used in ways more pleasurable than a courtroom.


Obviously, who a person leaves their assets to is entirely up to them, but it is worth considering the fallout if said assets are not distributed “fairly” or at least in a way that keeps too many feelings from being hurt. This is one case where honesty is indeed the best policy. 

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Sources

Personal story

Aarp.org

Forbes.com


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