Parents want to leave bulk (all?) to my brother, in their will
October 4, 2019 11:39 AM   Subscribe

My parents seem to be considering leaving most of their assets and money to my brother (the favourite) in their will, cutting me and my sister out. They seem to be using this to threaten her if she doesn't visit/care for them enough. I'm prepared for this but my sister wants advice on how to handle it/what to do?

(Quick background, my parents were physically and emotionally abusive and I'm the designated 'black sheep' of the family, they made me homeless at 16 and I haven't lived anywhere near them since. They continue to find ways to be abusive from afar).

So, my sister visited our parents last week and they wanted 'advice' on how to divide their property/money in their will.

Sis advised dividing three ways - herself, me and our brother. My parents asked, not 5? (for my brother's kids). Sis said no, she didn't think it was fair to punish her for not having kids and she's not out of her childbearing years yet, so that could change. They then asked if she'd be caring for them in their old age, and when she replied yes mum nodded for the correct answer, but dad laughed and said she couldn't. That my brother would be doing the caring as he lives in their street. She countered that he knew that'd be the case when he moved in, and they look after his kids a lot so the 'caring' part was evening things out.

Mum has already given my brother a 2 bed house at a deep discount (when grandad died) - think 50% off. So he, his wife and kids are stable and settled. My sister shares a flat with her boyfriend and is not likely to be able to afford property anytime soon, perhaps never. I'm the scapegoat of our family and never expected anything but she's always tried to keep her head down, do what they want, please them, etc.

I'm not sure if they have to use the inheritance to threaten her into caring for them (because they know they don't deserve it and it won't be freely given), or if this is their way of letting us know it'll it'll mostly be going to my brother.

Mum has also taken this opportunity to remind my sis that without her partner, she'd be 'destitute' - if he died or left, she'd be without a place to live, bc they're not married his property and money would revert to his family etc. So I feel this is part of the threat.

They will definitely have talked to my brother about this, who is abusive himself (has threatened both my sister and his wife with violence repeatedly), and he will likely have told them he thinks he and his kids should have 3/5, if not more.

What advice would you have for my sister, on how to talk about this to them (or not) or whether she should take on their care and potentially be left nothing, or what?

FWIW my parents aren't rich, just normal working class people, but my sister is struggling and needs some of the help my brother's been given.
posted by abbagoochie to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We're only seeing one side of the story here but taking everything on face value I'd advise your sister to get on with her own life under the assumption that she won't be receiving any inheritance from your parents. Once she accepts that, she will have that entire dark cloud removed from her life and can stress less about it, and will in one fell swoop remove a ton of arguments with family from her future.

I've never been a fan of the idea of relying on inheritance as 'income' anyway.
posted by McNulty at 11:51 AM on October 4, 2019 [53 favorites]

Best answer: Ooof.

I think that your approach is the healthiest: assume that you're not getting anything, and then proceed as you would if the money weren't on the table. It doesn't sound like there's any reason to believe that either of your parents' demise is imminent, and the best case scenario is that your sister gets jerked around for decades and then eventually inherits some money somewhere way down the line. The worst case scenario, which is entirely possible, is that they jerk her around and then give your brother everything anyway. It stinks that your sister needs the help and probably isn't going to get it, but she probably isn't going to get it, regardless of what she does. She should refuse to engage with your parents on the question of their will, assume that she may not get anything in it, and then decide how she wants to interact with your parents based on other factors.

Incidentally, I don't necessarily think that dividing it five ways is wrong, assuming that they would readjust if you or your sister had kids.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2019 [32 favorites]

She should let your abusive brother manage your abusive parents (I don't know how else to characterize "what do you think we should do in this complex family situation? Haha, thanks for playing, here's why you're wrong") and accept that she's on her own.
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:53 AM on October 4, 2019 [17 favorites]

I mean, yeah, one can play their game forever until they die and find out they split it whatever way they wanted to anyhow (all to your brother and kids, nothing to sister). Maybe the skill-building she needs is from you, who has gone on the black-sheep assumption of 'nothing coming' for decades now.
posted by oflinkey at 11:55 AM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Since you're asking for advice for your sister, my advice is for her to not play their game. They're going to do what they want, and she's not going to know how this ends up until they're gone. It's silly to play along with them. They're just using this to control her. She should expect nothing from them. Maybe she'll get a nice surprise later, but in all reality, it's not likely.

As for the splitting of the inheritance, what I think is fair (which matters nought here, of course), is that your parents give equal portions to 1)Brother; 2)Sister; 3)You; 4)Kids. So that means the kids together would get 1/4 of the estate (so if there are 2 kids, they each end up with 1/8). If the kids are minors, the funds should go into a protected account until they are 18 or (preferably) 25.
posted by hydra77 at 12:01 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Let them spend this money if it exists on professional care and let the rest of you live your own lives. I know how your sister feels - I would do just about anything for the promise of future help no matter how far off or theoretical - but it's a trap. "Caring for" people like this just means allowing them to keep abusing you. You only get one life & you don't have to spend it like this.
posted by bleep at 12:05 PM on October 4, 2019 [41 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW my parents aren't rich, just normal working class people, but my sister is struggling and needs some of the help my brother's been given.

She's struggling and she needs help, period. That specific help can't be the thing she needs because it was never on the table for her. If it hasn't been forthcoming by now, it never will be. She will never have the energy to do what she needs to do if she's spending her energy trying to keep on their good side. Investing in this is like investing in playing the lottery. It's not strictly impossible that it could pay off, but if there's any chance that you could use those resources elsewhere, there is almost no chance that it wouldn't pay off at a better rate of return. Even taking on poorly-paid caregiver work for a stranger would at least potentially result in her being in a better financial position!

I have found a lot better things in my life by diverting from trying to be the daughter my mother would approve of and figuring out, instead, how to live the life I want and where aside from my family to get the help I need to have that. A few years into that process, my income has doubled, I'm finally basically financially stable, and I have probably earned more myself than I'd have any hope of getting from my family. Spending all your energy on the people who aren't helping you is another way that they deprive you of what you need, because part of what everybody needs is sufficient energy to help themselves.
posted by Sequence at 12:05 PM on October 4, 2019 [37 favorites]

Best answer: I'm glad you asked this question.

The answer is that neither you nor your sister nor anyone else should depend on getting anything from your folks after they're dead. They could live another 20 years. They could require care which would require them to spend every liquid asset, and take a second mortgage on their house which would negate any value it has.

Plus: nothing kills a woman's earning potential deader than taking on the burden of caring for mean old people who feel entitled to her free labor. The last thing your sister needs to be doing is keeping herself on the hook here, particularly not for whatever pittance "might" (but almost certainly won't) come to her in the future.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:14 PM on October 4, 2019 [70 favorites]

Response by poster: Just a quick note to mention that my parents are in their mid 70s and both have serious health issues. They could (?) live another 10 years but more than that would be unlikely, I think. Thanks to everyone for your answers and advice, I will pass them along to her. Very grateful for this community.
posted by abbagoochie at 12:35 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: She needs to be careful to avoid the waiting trap for her, which is when her brother proves (like, I'm sorry to say, most all men) unable or unwilling to do the actual hard elder care and they start pressuring her to pitch in, dangling unspecified bequests. She needs to be prepared to tell them that they made their decision and they're welcome to live with it or try to find some other solution, but she won't be doing anything for them. Otherwise, they will screw her over.

And everyone above is right--you and she should just banish any thought of any bequest from your minds and your conversations.
posted by praemunire at 12:38 PM on October 4, 2019 [40 favorites]

Sis said no, she didn't think it was fair to punish her for not having kids

to think of someone's gift to their own grandchildren, who are people and who may be adult at the time this takes effect even if they aren't now, as a punishment -- to frame their inheritance not as a gift to them but as a theft from you -- is the kind of self-centered reaction that everyone understands having, but that you can't express to the person with the money without coming over as the more selfish person. it incidentally characterizes the brother's children as his appendages, as if they're going to turn around and hand the money over to their dad and it's somehow his reward.

but as you explain in some detail, people whose abusive parents have money still need money of their own. That applies to your brother's kids, not just to you and your sister.

I believe you when you say your parents are abusive and your brother, too. but writing your will to pay belated compensation to whoever does the hands-on work of physically caring for the deceased in their last days is a normal and a reasonable thing to do. it is not wise to write your will that way when you aren't absolutely certain who, if anyone is going to do it, since it isn't a contract, but that's their problem to worry about, not yours or your sister's. Consider them cutting her/you out of the will, if they do so, as a gesture absolving her/you of responsibility for that.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:48 PM on October 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think this is partly about the will, and this is partly about your sister still wanting their approval (because we all want our parents to love us). They're trying to make this transactional and it's still emotionally abusive. Essentially they are saying "we have this prize for you and we are going to dangle it over your head so you're a good daughter, but we don't think you're a good daughter so you're going to have to prove it and earn our love."

Then they're doubling down by suggesting she can't take care of herself, and her partner is the only thing keeping her from being destitute. So they're trying to manipulate her into needing the prize even more.

It sounds like at some point you accepted that you weren't going to get that love, so you made peace with that. Your sister is still struggling to be a good kid. She still wants their love and approval.

Your parents are probably doing this because on some level they know they don't have much to hold over your sister. So they're using the promise of money to keep her interested in them, to try to extract what they want... which isn't really care (probably), but the ability to mess with her (I'm guessing).

This all really sucks. I would suggest your sister go to counseling to try to resolve some of the issues around how terribly your parents treated all of you. I agree with others that she should presume she won't get any money from them (pretend they blow it on poor investments or something, rather than stewing over your brother's inheritance). She should also probably start accepting that she isn't going to get the consistent, unconditional love and approval that you all deserve but they are incapable of giving.

How much does she really want to be involved with them? What is the cost of being a dutiful daughter? She could take this opportunity to think about what she wants in this relationship, not what they want. Would she rather never see them again? That's her prerogative. I think, given the abuse, she has no obligations or responsibilities to fill with your parents. This is sad, but maybe also freeing?

Good luck to both of you.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:53 PM on October 4, 2019 [18 favorites]

Best answer: My understanding is that in most states, if your parents died without a will, their money would be divided among the three of you, with your brother's kids getting nothing unless he predeceased them, in which case they would split his share. So I don't think it's unreasonable to divide the money three ways, and that's what I personally would consider fair, though there are additional complications here because of money they've already given your brother (I've inherited from people without wills a few times.)

However, it doesn't matter what's fair in this situation. Really, the best thing to do is to always assume you will get nothing. The money belongs to your parents. If they want to leave it all to their dog or their neighbor's dog or the John Birch Society or just one of your brother's kids, they can do that. It's fine to be angry about it, but nobody has a right to their money anymore than they have a right to tell you how to spend yours or tell your sister how she should be living her life. And even if they are in poor health, medical or care expenses can eat up enormous amounts of money, and it's very possible they'll have nothing left.

So your sister really needs to separate the money from the relationship with your parents. If she wants to help take care of them, she should do that. If she doesn't, she can do that too. If they try to discuss their will with her, she really should just say, "It's your money. It's up to you what you do with that." And then refuse to engage further. Really refuse, as in "I won't discuss it further." I agree that they're playing a cruel game. The best way to deal with that is to refuse to play.
posted by FencingGal at 1:10 PM on October 4, 2019 [18 favorites]

FencingGal is wise. Nobody is obligated to leave grown children a dime. Most people do, if they can. But they don’t have to. My late husband’s parents have money, though I suspect it’s not as much as he thought they have. If he were alive, I suspect their wills would split it 50/50 to both their kids. But he’s not, so what will they do? Who knows. They might spend it all. One might outlive the other for decades. I’ll likely be close to retirement myself by that point. My suspicion is it will be X amount for every grandchild’s college fund and most of the rest to charity, but who knows. Bottom line is, it’s their money. I’m making my own money. If there is a present later on, I’ll gratefully accept it and enjoy it, but it’s their right to use it as they wish to and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise.
posted by ficbot at 1:26 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Holy moley. I think I'd write a letter.
I love you and want to help you when and as I can, and I don't need any promise of inheritance to love or care for you. It feels bad to have this be an issue. Is the inheritance away of demonstrating your love? Because that would feel crummy. I'm doing fine financially, but I think it would be fair to leave Sister a third to help her with retirement savings, as women have less earning power. I hope you'll be around to use it all up.
That's a pretty clumsy start. but you get the idea.

My Mom got hustled, hard, by a care-taking sibling who is money-driven. It's ugly and divisive and Mom was ill and vulnerable. Your parents are using money to create division, and it's a thing that lasts. You are on the healthy approach of staying away from the money issues.
posted by theora55 at 1:27 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Previous commenters are 100% right that your parents are trying to make this transactional instead of two separate issues. Unless your parents explicitly tell you so, never assume they are passing down any significant assets. This is entirely separate from whether/how much care your sister is willing to give them. Elder care in general is done out of the generosity and kindness a relationship has cultivated. Unfortunately, your parents haven't put in much work there, and they seem to know it by trying to force a false money/care connection and blackmailing your sister instead of being the kind of people your children want to care for.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:32 PM on October 4, 2019 [13 favorites]

writing your will to pay belated compensation to whoever does the hands-on work of physically caring for the deceased in their last days is a normal and a reasonable thing to do.

This is the only thing I would point out that is normal about what your parents might be doing. I think the best thing you can do is help your sister develop the level of independence from your parents' (and brother's) financial and emotional manipulations as possible. I had two (both) parents die over the past decade, both with some significant assets and in both cases there was some drama over... stuff (in my father's case his ex-wife made things difficult that she could have made easy. In my mother's case there was a foster kid who got a lot and thought he wanted/deserved more and could have been more decent about it). In both cases, the fact that my sister and I were a TEAM and were somewhat independent in terms of needing support/help from my parents went a long way towards having the death of my folks not be more painful than it was. It's hard when abusive parents die because there's grief mixed with relief, and then guily over that relief. I am sorry this is all happening.

she didn't think it was fair to punish her for not having kids and she's not out of her childbearing years yet,

I get why she said this but I think it's a cognitive distortion for her to think that way. If she has kids, great. If she doesn't, great. Splitting an inheritance between siblings makes sense. Often in a larger estate there can be smaller bequests to grandchildren, but it's less usual to split an estate equally between kids and grandkids. If she feels that her folks are saying this stuff to needle her, the winning move is not to play. "Well make whatever decisions you want and I'll be doing the same. I love you guys but you have to make your own choices" and then do what I call "Loving broken record" where that is basically the response to them (or your brother) any time this comes up.

If your parents can't make your sister care for them without extortion, she can remove the effectiveness of that threat and they'll either need to be more decent, or they can find their own solution. I know people in the US are quick to say "Therapy!" but if it's an option sometime having someone who is outside the cycle of emotional abuse saying "Hey what your parents are doing isn't OK" can help a lot (likewise someone from a church or a support group) towards figuring out that something has to change.
posted by jessamyn at 2:03 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: One last interjection, unless the money left to my nephews is specifically earmarked for them in a way my brother isn't able to access, he will 100% take it. Within 2 hours of my grandad dying in hospital, he took the key to his house and went through it while everyone else was still away, taking a lot of stuff, and we still don't know where it is. Some of it had been explicitly left to other people. My parents know this.

Another thing to add in which I'm not sure is suuuuper pertinent is that my sister struggles with chronic and quite severe depression.

Thank you all again for every answer you've given. I am glad that for once, this isn't really affecting me, but I am concerned about supporting my sister the best way I can. Really appreciate your advice.
posted by abbagoochie at 2:09 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

One last interjection, unless the money left to my nephews is specifically earmarked for them in a way my brother isn't able to access, he will 100% take it. Within 2 hours of my grandad dying in hospital, he took the key to his house and went through it while everyone else was still away, taking a lot of stuff, and we still don't know where it is. Some of it had been explicitly left to other people. My parents know this.

I think this matters only if you are focusing on the will and who gets what. I think you need to let that go. Because there are bigger issues at stake...

Another thing to add in which I'm not sure is suuuuper pertinent is that my sister struggles with chronic and quite severe depression.

This is absolutely, completely pertinent. She's been treated horribly by her parents and one sibling for years. It sounds like you are a great sibling and you are doing what you can to support her. Maybe she needs permission to step away from your parents. Maybe she needs to let herself not be involved with them anymore. Jessamyn is right that we Americans yell "therapy!" about everything, but in this case, I really hope your sister is getting professional help in working through these issues. You can be a parent substitute for her, but you can be (you are!) a lovely family member who has her back. Can you show her this thread? Maybe it would help her to realize that some many people don't think she has any obligation to them. What happens if your sister decides that the most important thing is to take care of herself?
posted by bluedaisy at 2:35 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

"My sister is struggling and needs some of the help my brother's been given."

Her parents have just told her, reading between the lines, that she won't be getting it (I mean, if they were going to help her out financially they'd have done it before now anyway, but that last conversation was a definite door slamming closed).

She needs to proceed accordingly to shore up her financial situation. That might mean marriage, might mean improving her earning power, might mean something else entirely. But she clearly can't rely at all on your parents.

And as people above have alluded, she absolutely shouldn't work herself into the ground caring for them, because the likelihood is they will abuse and abuse her and then still leave everything to their darling son.
posted by tinkletown at 2:41 PM on October 4, 2019 [16 favorites]

Best answer: It's a temptation to think that people that are bad will change and become good. In my experience, it only happens in literature and not that often there. If your parents have been abusive manipulative shits in the past, they're not going to get better as they get older--they may in fact get worse.

I hope your sister is able to come to terms with this and lower her expectations, because then she can live life as it is. Good luck to you both.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:31 PM on October 4, 2019 [12 favorites]

Let them spend this money if it exists on professional care and let the rest of you live your own lives

I think this is a particularly good thing for your sister to focus on to help her deal with the imparted guilt. If the money has been earmarked to buy care, your parents should spend it on exactly that. Involving your sister is not necessary.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:13 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think you have gotten some solid advice above.

It appears as if they are trying to buy long-term care insurance from your sister because they know they cannot expect for your brother to pay off on the policy they thought they were buying from him. If they are trying to exchange a promise of paying in the will for care before they die, if I were your sister, I would tell them that she will provide the care for pay while she is caring for them, not for a promise of payment in the future. They can either pay a professional or pay a family member (or both). It is emotional blackmail to expect your sister, after your parents previous actions, to try to get your sister to accept a vague promise of money in the will.

Quite frankly, if I were in your sister's shoes, I would tell them to stick it. If she really thinks she will get nothing, and from what you have written, I am betting that is the case, it might be cathartic for your sister to tell them she wants nothing from the will and does not anticipate having the time to care for them other than the occasional visit.

(Also, if your sister is in a committed relationship but not legally committed, she might consider talking to her partner about having a will that names her.)
posted by AugustWest at 11:28 PM on October 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

my sister struggles with chronic and quite severe depression

In a perfect world, abusive parents would have to pay for their kids' therapy or other ways of mitigating the emotional toll their parenting brought about. However, they never realize that, and I think the better route is the route you've taken, which would get her life back faster.

Could you say to her that her telling you this story has gotten you thinking about how she deserves more from your parents than she's getting, but in lieu of that, you'd be interested in helping her figure out ways to become more financially stable? Does she feel like she needs more financial help, or is she currently satisfied living month-to-month?
posted by salvia at 7:46 AM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

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