I was recently made aware of Mary Beth Caschetta’s article in the New York Times about her personal experience with being disinherited. My heart broke as I read how her father chose to use the reading of his will to express to her his enduring disapproval from the grave:
“My father had put my mother’s name on the deed to the house and made her the beneficiary of his investments, leaving the rest of his estate to my three older brothers. It was an act accomplished in a single sentence: ‘I leave no bequest to my daughter for reasons known to her.’ ”
From the rest of the article, it seems that the two of them had differences throughout their lives, but had made steps towards reconciliation only months before he died unexpectedly.
Whether their new ability to express their love for each other more openly would have changed his mind or intention related to his will is something she will never know. And many people find themselves in her circumstance where they are unable to explore, discuss, and connect with their parents around what would cause them to make that choice and what they might be able to do to change their thinking or intentions.
What continues to bring distress to my heart and fuel my passion for my work with families is that if people felt skilled and able to have these difficult and emotional conversations effectively, they could potentially heal and move through long standing wounds and pain that continue to perpetuate from one generation to the next. And maybe I could help effect a different outcome…
In Estate Planning for the Blended Family, we discuss the sticky issue of disinheritance in our chapter on Testamentary Planning. One thing we strongly recommend is that if this is a choice you believe is absolutely necessary, that you make the effort to communicate your reasons why you’ve made the choices you have — as this will help to ease the blow and keep your memory alive in ways that are more positive and less painful for your prodigal son or daughter, no matter what they may have done to have caused you to keep them from receiving your assets.
A powerful exercise we recommend is that, as you write your reasons for the disinheritance, you also share what you enjoyed most about that person and particular memories from the span of your life together that mattered to you in loving ways. Some people do this in their ethical will. This will further nurture a healing place in their heart even as they wrestle with the pain of not being included as they may have thought they would be.
If at all possible, we encourage parents to share their decision to disinherit while they are alive, so that the impact of the decision is not quite so dramatic at the painful time of their death.
For more information about how to go about having these conversations successfully as a family, or between a father and a daughter, contact us for a private consultation.