Saturday, January 24, 2015

Inheritance: Gift or Curse?

The closer I get to the grave, the more I worry about how events will play out after I'm gone. 

Many people are like me. We are getting older,  have accumulated a little “stuff” and want to make sure it goes to the person who needs it most or who will appreciate it and care for it.

In my experience, very little goes as planned after someone dies.

When I was 22, my paternal grandmother died. I'm not sure how things went down with her children, but her will and instructions about inheritance caused a rift between my father and his siblings that was never resolved.

When my maternal grandmother died, my mom and her brother also experienced a falling-out. Although their inheritance had been gifted before my grandmother's death, they disagreed about many other events, such as the funeral and material objects.

One of my close friends was the primary caregiver of her mother, seeing to her care while she was able to live in her own home and in an assisted living facility after her mother’s dementia progressed. My friend took her mom to doctors' appointments, battled the staff at the assisted-living facility when they did something wrong and, as her mom’s power of attorney, took care of her mom’s financial necessities. When my friend's mom was close to death, she brought her mom into her home to die.

My friend's siblings won't speak to her now because they say she took advantage of their mother, mainly by spending the inheritance to pay for their mother’s care. 

In all of these three cases I have mentioned, these siblings have said extremely hurtful words to each other that can never be forgotten. They felt betrayed by the parent. They had to constantly be on guard in case the other family members were planning an attack.  Because of these events, they were not able to grieve properly.

The deceased parents thought they had planned for every eventuality. They had wills and trusts that spelled out everything that the lawyers, executors, trustees and inheritors were to do; however, they couldn't possibly plan for the emotional fall-out that occurred.

Reading about many other similar cases and seeing how these three families went through this inheritance problem, I wonder if a person can really plan for what will happen after his/her demise. It seems impossible because you are dealing with emotions as well as money and other tangible items. Lawyers and financial advisors are more than happy to help make plans, but they don’t know the family members like you do. They are also charging a hefty fee that will take money out of the inheritance.

How do I make sure that my wants are carried out? I can’t. However, I have made a will and a plan which I, like others, hope will be carried out like I wished.

One way to make sure material objects go where I want them to is to simply ask family members what they want. Each time I visited my grandmother before her death, she asked me to look around her little house and take something I wanted. I always laughed at her because I thought there was no hurry or that I would have a chance to get a picture or a piece of china later. Now, all I have from her is an electric rice cooker.

Another idea is to spend everything and leave nothing. Then the family can be mad at the deceased but not at each other.

Others leave everything to charity which sounds very noble and Oprah-ish, but I don’t see that happening in my family.

Families and inheritance are often like oil and water – never mixing but instead pulling against one another. These events are sad to watch and even sadder to be a part of. It destroys the memory of the loved one and instead makes family members concentrate on getting what they feel is their fair share.

It’s important to remember that inheritance is a gift, not a right.

My friend Will, who has been through some tough situations dealing with family and inheritance, said, “The things you receive mean nothing when the love is gone. Nothing!”