Recently, both my parents passed away. The most recent leaves pretty much everything to me. Both of my half-sisters have passed away as well, but my parents wanted something to be left to their grandchildren.
As with most families, there is a lot of history that led to the most recent version of the will. When my sisters were alive, the estate was split 50% for me, and 25% for each sister. Over the years, both my sisters “borrowed” $20,000 to $30,000 from my parents time and again.
We didn’t talk about money too often, but during the few times we did when I had money troubles, I refused to take my parents’ money. I lost about $60,000 selling my old house with all the required repairs. It took me a few years to dig out of that hole, but I took that gamble on the old house, and there was no reason to put that on my parents.
Where this story gets more complex is the inheritance itself. My mother passed away quickly after she learned that she had stage 4 lung cancer. She was the one who did all the books, and we never got a chance to talk about her retirement savings. So when I tried to help my father out, I was truly surprised to find around $130,000 in their bank account. I was so happy for Dad, as just a few years ago they had less than $20,000 saved for retirement.
Sadly, my father passed away about four weeks later. I am just starting to account for their estates, but looking at the detailed books Mom had in 2014 before their house burned down, there was about $40,000 saved. Mom had worked hard in the last few years at building up their savings, so the actual amount is closer to $400,000 now. If you account for the house, cars and furniture, it is probably closer to $800,000.
There are six grandchildren to share a portion of my parents’ inheritance. My heart is heavy about what to do, and what is fair. The grandchildren did not return my parents’ calls, nor did they come visit. Christmas presents from the previous year were left unclaimed under the Christmas tree. During those four weeks after my mom died, they did not visit my dad or call him.
They wrote the will so that I don’t have to disclose the final amount after all their debts are settled, so this leaves me conflicted. I truly wish they had written an amount into the will. Before I learned of the grandchildren not contacting Dad, nor returning my mother’s phone calls for over a year, this all seemed easier. This was also much easier prior to learning that the final inheritance is close to $800,000.
Son & Uncle
That image of unclaimed presents under the Christmas tree is a painful one.
Kudos to you for wanting to do what’s right by your sisters. Ordinarily, I would suggest you give them a token gift that they could use as a down payment on a house, or set up a 529 account for them, depending on their ages and stages in life. That way, the gifts keep on giving and allow them to have a head start in life. You could gift them $25,000 each. That would eat into your inheritance by $125,000. You could also give them a $10,000 placeholder gift for now.
The problem here is twofold: 1. They did not find the time, or have the maturity or inclination, to reciprocate a relationship with their grandparents. 2. There are six grandchildren, so even a modest gift of $25,000 would likely not move the needle in their gratitude-ometer, yet upping that gift to $50,000 would take a big chunk of your own inheritance. So you are squeezed on both sides — by the number of grandchildren, and by their relative indifference to your parents.
“You are squeezed on both sides — by the number of grandchildren, and by their relative indifference to your parents.”
Assuming your nieces and nephews are of an age to know the consequences of their actions, it’s equitable to meet them at the same point in the relationship where they met their grandparents — that is, somewhere far behind the halfway line. That seems like a fair and reasonable, if exacting, response to the guilt and responsibility you feel toward your sisters. They are their own people. With decisions over an inheritance, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
The grandchildren are not legal beneficiaries to your parents’ estate, and as the years pass, you can revisit this decision based on how they respond to your own outreach. Of course, it would be nice of them to want a relationship with you because you are their uncle, and that would be the nice thing to do, rather than because they believe they will get an inheritance.
But this way, they have the opportunity to learn and mature. Only time will tell if they make the same mistake twice.
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