My wife and I were unable to have children and we both had successful careers. We retired just before the COVID-19 crisis hit. I have not spoken with or heard from two of my siblings and their children in the last 10 years.
We own several rental properties that generate a solid income, and we live a pretty frugal lifestyle. Our estate has a value in the neighborhood of $7 million. We have a total of six siblings, and my family trust currently divides our estate equally between them all, regardless of the number of children.
My issue is that both of my siblings are no longer on speaking terms with me due to my political beliefs (I’m a Trump supporter) and my decision to not get vaxxed. I have not spoken with or heard from my nieces and nephews in the last 10 years. I think it is pathetic to isolate a family member for those reasons, but that is a choice they have made.
When I die I don’t want my siblings and their children to enjoy inheriting several million dollars from me. I feel closer to some of the nieces and nephews on my wife’s side than some of her other nieces and nephews. I am considering leaving my half of our estate to just two of her nieces. This could create some family friction, and that concerns me.
What would you advise?
Husband, Uncle & Brother
Dear Husband, Uncle & Brother,
When faced with deeply personal decisions, I ask myself, “How will this make me feel?” With that in mind, ask yourself: “How would it make me feel to cut my siblings and their kids out of my will?” Or: “How would it make me feel to leave the children of my estranged siblings far less than what I leave my other nieces and nephews?” The answer may — or may not — be: “Great!”
Thanksgiving dinners across this magnificent and troubled land have, no doubt, had some barnstorming, roof-raising, pitchfork-wielding debates between diehard Republicans and Democrats (and Bernie supporters, let’s not forget them). The goal is being able to sit down over a plate of turkey breast and cranberry sauce, and talk about our differences. Or even better: Pass the salt, and avoid them.
I’ve lived in this country for 10 years and nothing could have prepared me for the profound divisions between its people along party — and ideological — lines. Supporters of different political parties go after each on social media every second of every day and, yes, the media and political classes play to the peanut gallery, keeping the embers of conflict burning brightly, nightly.
Religious beliefs vs. civil liberties
But it’s a tragedy when this environment tears families apart, pitting brother against brother, and generation against generation. It takes a lot of hurt and momentum to keep those fires burning at home. We all have flexible white lines — on subjects that we differ on with our loved ones — and “never cross” red lines, and they vary wildly from person-to-person.
One man’s religious beliefs is another woman’s civil liberties. It’s complicated and, from what I have seen these past 10 Thanksgivings, never the twain shall meet. When I have a challenging encounter, I also find it useful to tell myself: “They are my teacher. What have they been sent to teach me?” Maybe they or I, or both of us, need a lesson in humility. Or maybe the lesson is to simply to walk away.
As a rule, I gently caution you against making final decisions based on anger, righteous or not, even if you believe you are on the receiving end of stubborn self-will and political intractability. So what about your $7 million? Leave the most generous sums of money to your closest siblings and their kids and, perhaps, a more modest amount to your estranged siblings’ children.
That token gift says: “I see you and acknowledge that you are part of our family, and on the day of my death I want you to know that I truly believe in a time and place where we can all see eye to eye, and bring more compassion and understanding to the table on Thanksgiving and every other day of the year, and that any issues between me and your parents end here.”
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More from Quentin Fottrell:
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