Not leaving people money can hurt.
Several readers, pulling from their own experiences, asked that I rethink my view that parents have no obligation to leave an inheritance to non-disabled adult children. An inheritance is a gift not a right, I wrote.
The column elicited so much feedback that I thought I’d share a sample of the comments in a feature I call “Talk Back.”
“For the past year, I have dissected, investigated and lived the horror of disinheritance,” one reader wrote. “The blow from the grave was stunning.”
Another said: “Discovering that you are being treated very differently than your siblings is a wrenching experience.”
If you are a parent who has money or possessions to leave, there’s a lot of pain you can cause.
“After my father’s funeral, I was informed by my brother, who is a lawyer and was executor of the will, that I had been totally cut out,” a third reader wrote. “I asked why, and he said it was dad’s wishes. I have not spoken to my siblings since. I will NEVER speak to them again. I have since re-evaluated my life and my past: ‘What did I do wrong?’ The hurt will never go away, ever.”
Sarah was also treated differently in her dad’s will. “In many situations, when all children are actively involved with the family,” she wrote, “to decide to treat one child dramatically different in a will is often a negative statement. And the child often has no opportunity to hear why or discuss it with the parent. Parents that decide to punish a child, consciously or not, I’m guessing really have little awareness of how that decision will be absorbed by the family and how it will reverberate for many years.”
I also heard from Sally, whose father disinherited her and her brother. He had very little contact with them throughout the years and never paid child support. But the father did leave an inheritance to children from another relationship.
“Some nominal inheritance would have softened the memory, would have said he recognized he was a poor parent and regretted it,” Sally wrote. “We had no idea why we were disinherited.”
She added: “A will indicates the parent’s appreciation for a history of the relationship, the parent’s opinion of the child, and what values the parent wants remembered. It is a parent’s last message to the children. When a parent leaves a piece of jewelry or furniture to a friend and then, without explanation, disinherits a child whose entire life had weathered difficulties with the parent, the non-bequest is loaded with messages. It is certainly the ultimate rejection, a lasting memory souring the past.”
People talked about how their parents, while still alive, had given a disproportionate amount of money over the years to other of their adult children, who were irresponsible. The siblings mourned the loss of an inheritance that, they felt, was squandered.
“Why is it that certain children help themselves to parents’ funds for decades?” Michele wrote. “They are not ‘needy’; they are more often just greedy and lazy. The other siblings are left with nothing.”
There are many reasons why parents choose to withhold money in their will. Bob from Virginia, who has four adult children, offered a good one.
“The youngest has drug, alcohol, gambling and anger-management issues, and has for 20 years,” he wrote. “I have basically raised his 8-year-old son, to whom I have left his share of my estate. I informed my wayward son of my actions years ago. It was not an easy decision. I do not want to cause pain for my son upon my demise, but leaving a large amount of money to him would be the same as throwing it away.”
Still, I heard you — those of you who were left out or feel shortchanged.
I didn’t validate your feelings enough. I see now that you are grieving not the loss of money but what it represents — a relationship that can’t be resolved with the departed.
In your words, I felt your pain. I heard you.
But please, hear me.
I’m not writing this stuff based just on other people’s experiences. I’ve lived through parental rejection and had to learn — through prayer and therap — that if I didn’t forgive them, I was only hurting my spirit. When my mother gave to other siblings out of spite, ignoring me, I pitied her. My mother was broken and she lashed out. Hurt people hurt people.
Sometimes they hurt with their hands or words — or money.
You have a right to grieve. But you also have to heal. Don’t take the pain to your grave.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.