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The Moneyist: I became the black sheep of the family after my mother died. How do I tactfully ask my grandmother if I’m still included in her will?


Dear Quentin,

When I was a teenager, my mother was terminally ill. During that time, I remember a few family meetings with my grandparents, my mother, and my aunts and uncles where my grandparents’ estate was discussed. I was included then because it was known my mom was terminal, and I would be getting my mother’s portion of my grandparents’ inheritance when the time came.

My mother ended up passing away shortly after my 18th birthday in 2002. During the later years of my mom’s sickness and the first few years after, I dealt with my grief in some not-so-healthy ways. I became the black sheep of the family, and there was no contact at all with my mom’s family from 2004 to 2009.

In 2009, my grandfather passed away and communication lines opened back up. I have completely turned my life around from where I was in the early 2000s, and I am doing pretty well for myself. Communication was tense for a few years, but now it’s fairly open.

“‘I have completely turned my life around from where I was in the early 2000s, and I am doing pretty well for myself.'”

I hadn’t really thought about my inheritance until last year, when my grandmother and uncle — who manages my grandmother’s finances — started sending all of the grandchildren and their families large monetary gifts. They stated they were sending this money to avoid taxes (I am assuming estate taxes upon my grandmother’s death, but I really had no idea my grandmother had that large of an estate).

They have maxed out the gift-tax exclusion amounts for the past two years, giving money to myself, my husband and both of my children (same with all the other grandkids in the family). This money has truly been a blessing to us.

I would like to ask my uncle and grandmother if I will be included in my grandmother’s inheritance when she passes, but I’m not sure how to handle that conversation tactfully. I was always included in money conversations when I was a teenager, but after my mom passed and I went through my wild years I was no longer included.

I have no idea if I’m still set to receive my mother’s portion, or if they have set up something for the grandkids, or if they completely wrote me out. Is there even a tactful way to have the conversation?

Thanks for your advice.


Dear Granddaughter,

I’d ask yourself a question first: How much is your need to have this conversation with your uncle and grandmother a result of your feelings of guilt or shame with your grief-stricken years when you acted out? Guilt and shame are a never-ending revolving door of emotions. If you stay stuck in that whirl, it will never get you where you want to go, and will affect your perception of those around you.

Hand on heart, how likely is it really that you have been cut out of your grandmother’s will, given that you and your family are already included in your grandmother’s annual gifts? If your grandmother did not trust you with money, she would have set up a trust — or not included you in this annual gifting at all. It seems far more likely than not that you are included.

The third and, likely, more relevant question is: Will grandchildren receive their parents’ portion of your grandparents’ estate? The last word on this is “yes.” You are included and, despite those difficult years when communication was sparse or nonexistent, you have reestablished relationships and built a good life for yourself. That takes hard work, humility and hope.

Inheritance and squabbles over the smallest items can cause rifts in families. Of course, it’s often less about the items and more about residual ill will about who was treated better or worse as a child, and rivalry among siblings. Andrea Coombes addressed the mechanics of asking about inheritance without (hopefully) sounding mercenary in this MarketWatch article.

“‘You have reestablished relationships and built a good life for yourself. That takes hard work, humility and hope.'”

Among her conversational guidelines: Request a special meeting rather than bringing it up on the fly (no one likes to be taken off guard); listen, validate and confirm your grandmother’s feelings and wishes so she does not feel on the defense or the need to explain her plans; be direct, honest and vulnerable; and don’t get into specifics about what you might or might not get.

I would also add: Thank your grandmother for her annual gifts, and ask what you can do to help her. Of course, there’s no point in acting like this conversation is designed to make your grandmother feel better or help her with her estate planning. That would be passive-aggressive and come across as fake. But do show that you want to continue building the relationship.

Say something like this: “Our relationship and your support has meant everything to me. I am proud of how far I have come since those difficult days, and I hope Mom would be proud too. I feel awkward asking you about this, but I have been wondering if it’s still your intention that I will receive Mom’s share of your estate.” You may not even need that last line.

Again, be sure about why you need to know the answer to this question. Is it because of something they’ve said or done in the intervening years, because of the period when you were out of touch with the family, or because you still feel badly about those difficult, grief-stricken years? Living your best life, and making yourself and your family proud, are more effective than any question.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

o My married sister is helping herself to our parents’ most treasured possessions. How do I stop her from plundering their home?
o My mom had my grandfather sign a trust leaving millions of dollars to two grandkids, shunning everyone else
o My brother’s soon-to-be ex-wife is embezzling money from their business. How do we find hidden accounts?
o ‘Grandma recently passed away, leaving behind a 7-figure estate. Needless to say, things are getting messy’

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