No doubt, like me, you’ve found yourself mindlessly bequeathing favorite objects to a beloved son, daughter or friend. If you haven’t put it in writing, the legacy that lingers after you’re gone could be an acrimonious one.
Say, for example, you’ve promised that valuable diamond brooch to your only daughter. You pass on and, years later, your daughter sees that brooch affixed to the new stepmother’s lapel. Turns out step-mom is a very decent lady, and like her new husband, is totally unaware of her predecessor’s wishes. What could be a happy stepfamily is engulfed in bitterness.
Perhaps you’ve taken those steps to make sure your wishes are put down in writing. You’ve decided that Child A – conscientious and hardworking - is more deserving of your hard earned dollars than surly, self-absorbed Child B. You bequeath your assets with this in mind. Sounds fair, but how will this affect the relationship between your children when your estate is settled? Should you always divide the proceeds evenly? Not necessarily.
In his book Overcoming the Inheritance Taboo, author and psychologist Steven J.Hendlin addresses the above scenarios and offers insight into bequeathing and inheriting possessions while keeping family relationships intact - or at least civil.
Hendlin devotes two chapters of the book to the critical roles played by family members. From the “controlling/punishing type - If you want to receive your inheritance, you’d better do what I say” - to the “second husband/wife - I’m the one who loves you now. Please be sure to provide for me. After all, you promised you would,” Hendlin probes into some of the nice and not-so-nice characters that figure into the inheritance scenario. Chances are you’ll see yourself in at least one of the persons he portrays.
Attention is also given to “disinheritance” in its use as a weapon ways to deal with the situation when you are the disinherited.
Given the demographics of our aging boomer population, the “Inheritance Taboo” is one we’re going to have to overcome. Steven Hendlin provides an insightful roadmap through what can be an emotionally trying and divisive family issue. I would recommend Overcoming the Inheritance Taboo as a well thought out map to those of us who just don’t want to go there.