How to react to potential small legacy from estranged parent
April 28, 2021 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I was estranged from a parent who died in 2019. I heard nothing about the will since so I concluded that my two very much favoured siblings had inherited everything. However, I received a letter from a lawyer today saying that I am entitled by law to a small inheritance. I don't know what to do about it and feel ridiculously upset.

The letter says that as one of the three children I'm entitled to "claim" one third of his moveable estate, about £3000 after costs. This doesn't include the value of his very nice house that one of my siblings now lives in, so I think they have received the vast bulk of his estate. It isn't money that he chose to leave me. So do I make a claim, or not? I guess if I don't, it will be split between the other two.

The options I've thought of are:
1. My late mother was mostly estranged from her terrible abusive family. When she was left some funds in similar circumstances she refused to accept it, very much as "Fuck You" kind of message. My siblings know this, I think they would get the message if I do the same. Also, my pride says why should I take the crumbs from the table.

2. I claim the money - this might tweak my siblings' noses slightly. That would be kind of fun because one of them seriously annoys me - and will definitely think I don't deserve to get a penny. Plus I could then spend it on something really lovely and frivolous that my father would disapprove of.

3. Not sure if possible, but what if I claim it but have it paid direct to a charity by the lawyer. Something like the NSPCC - a children's charity to prevent abuse and help children recover. My father was violent towards me when I was a child, but not really to my siblings. As a result they either deny this happened or say I deserved it. So this would be another message, really.

Receiving the money would be nice but it isn't vital. I've been totally estranged for over 10 years with annoying sibling and occasionally text with the other one - but not one word about my father or his estate since he died. I live far away from them both.

Just receiving the letter has knocked me completely off balance. I've felt so churned up I'm stupidly avoiding going into my kitchen since I opened the letter in there this morning, because it's still sitting on the table.

So, wise mefites - what should I do? One of these options - or can you think of something better?
posted by ElasticParrot to Human Relations (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're in a position where you can afford to leave 3000 GBP on the table, that is tremendous fortune and privilege. The crumbs on the table for you are really significant for many others - and a charity is a fine example.

I encourage you to accept what's offered, and if you don't want to keep it, send it directly on to a nonprofit that can make better use of it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:02 AM on April 28 [48 favorites]

Take the money and donate it to a cause that’s important to you. Doing this creates the mysterious side effect of making you feel like you’re rebalancing the universe in a small but important way.
posted by mochapickle at 11:03 AM on April 28 [33 favorites]

Take that money. Your #2 option strikes me as best. You don’t say you need the money, so do what you will with it. A charitable contribution to something your dad hated sounds just the thing.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:04 AM on April 28 [12 favorites]

What if you were to make this decision from a purely selfish standpoint? What would make YOU feel best? Sending a "fuck you" to your siblings? Buying yourself something nice with the money? Contributing to a charity? You've already been abused by these people, don't let them hold any more power of you (ie. forget what they think/leave your pride out of it).
posted by yawper at 11:07 AM on April 28 [10 favorites]

I love the idea of taking the money and then thumbing your nose at the family by either buying some treat for yourself or donating it, or how about a combo of the two? *If* this can be done mostly pain-free for you -- meaning, if you say yes, will the lawyer deal with it and then one day you'll get a check in the mail? If that, great. If it'll involve you having to meet your siblings, actively fight, etc., I'd pass and move along. The fact that even receiving the letter has disturbed you is important. Let's keep your disturbances at a minimum.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:08 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]

1) Is this actually the family lawyer or will executor, or is this some other lawyer wanting you to hire them to fight for some portion of the family money? What happens if you lose whatever process this lawyer wants to be hired to initiate?

First thing is to figure out what this letter actually means. It sounds like you are assuming all you need to do is claim it. I would absolutely not assume that, based on what you have said. It sounds to me like this lawyer wants you to hire him to initiate legal proceedings against the estate to attempt to get this money.

2) Claiming this money is going to be a tremendous emotional burden and hassle,. You are obviously upset just by this one dubious letter. Do you need the money badly enough to dig up trauma and allow openings for your family to injure you again?

3) Seriously, I can't overstate how suspicious I would be of a spam-like letter out of the blue from some lawyer telling me I was 'entitled to claim' some amount of money 'after costs'. Whose costs? What's the process like? Why is this lawyer sending this piece of mail? There are so many questions here.
posted by Ahniya at 11:15 AM on April 28 [57 favorites]

Ok my first step before making any decision would be to verify that this letter is coming from a lawyer for the estate and not some predatory third party who might want you to kick up a legal fuss in order to get a cut of any possible inheritance.

Either way I would not claim the money if it involved having to go to court to make a claim, which my reading of this article implies that it would.

On preview, strongly second what Ahniya said.
posted by muddgirl at 11:17 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]

The saying "don't cut off your nose to spite your face" was made for situations like this. Take the money. If you don't need it, donate it to a worthy cause.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 11:18 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]

not taking the money is perhaps a pyrrhic victory? you have no relationship with your siblings so why take them into consideration? take the money. do something charitable if that moves you, or treat yourself or loved ones to something special. also, do you have access to therapy for the feelings this has churned up? might be a good time to do some emotional 'house cleaning' about this stuff? either way, the best to you and hugs if you want them.
posted by supermedusa at 11:23 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Your reference to moveable estate makes me think that this is in Scotland or a similar jurisdiction where you cannot completely disinherit either a spouse or a child. The Scottish system makes a distinction between the moveable estate and the heritable estate; and children are entitled to a share of the moveable estate regardless of a will (called 'legal rights'). In that case, the executor has to deal with the legal rights or personally make good on any later claim you might make. I can see why it would be good practice to contact you directly rather than make an assumption that you will disclaim your legal rights.

If your siblings are inheriting generally they will presumably have been told about this provision, so may direct any irritation more at the law than anything else. People have a range of reactions.

Not an inheritance, but I have in the past received money that I wasn't happy about. I decided I didn't want to think of an object of mine as having been bought by that, so I used it to buy something my partner wanted. If I had needed the money, I think I probably would have just taken it out of practicality. I would be inclined to take it, sit with it in your bank account for a little while, and then make a decision depending on whether you feel like you want to get rid of the money or spend it on yourself.
posted by plonkee at 11:25 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]

It isn't money that he chose to leave me.

Just saw this on re-reading the question. This makes me question this letter even more.

This is not a windfall of 3000 pounds. This is someone who wants you to initiate legal proceedings. Why?

There are a lot of unanswered questions before you can even think about what to do with whatever money you might get out of your parent's estate. If you do want to make a claim against your parent's estate, find a good estate lawyer - not the one who sent you this letter - who knows your jurisdiction and ask them for their opinion.
posted by Ahniya at 11:28 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry you have had to deal with your abusive parent and terrible siblings. My heart goes out to you. As an internet stranger I think you should take the money (provided that it does not involve a significant amount of time and stress for you in the getting). I think you should do something very nice for yourself or for some charity you care about. How great to know that your shitty Dad's money is going to be used for something lovely. Be gentle with yourself when dealing with all of this. The pain a bad /abusive parent can cause is emense. You did not / do not deserve anyone treating you badly. You have my very best wishes.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:36 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I forced myself into the kitchen (was getting thirsty in any case) and made myself re-read the letter. It's from a lawyer acting for the executors of the estate (siblings) and they state they can't offer me legal advice or act for me. It includes inventory, details of the estate etc. I've to phone or email and tell them what I want to do - either make a claim or "discharge my legal rights - ie not make a claim". Basically it seems it is legitimate - and yes based in Scotland.

My parents threw me out when I was 18 and didn't give me a penny since, so I do count myself as very fortunate that I can afford to overlook £3000 if I want to. It has taken years of extremely hard work to achieve - knowing that family wouldn't help in an emergency made me focus on building my own safety net. I think back to how desperately alone and afraid I was as a homeless 18 year old and wonder how I survived.

Thanks for the answers so far.
posted by ElasticParrot at 11:39 AM on April 28 [18 favorites]

You have baggage - justified anger and hurt from long ago, maybe some new hurt from the death of the parent, the lack of inheritance. Feelings are real, it helps to understand them, acknowledge, and find away forward. 3K would help you pay for a therapist, or for some other way of addressing your feelings, so I would calmly claim it, use it for healing.

I'm so sorry it went so badly for you and I think you have and will be able to move on from it.
posted by theora55 at 11:46 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]

I think back to how desperately alone and afraid I was as a homeless 18 year old and wonder how I survived.

Seems pretty clear, then--give the money to an organization providing services to homeless teens.
posted by praemunire at 11:47 AM on April 28 [34 favorites]

Ah, OK! Those details do change things. Since it is the executor it's probably all legitimate.

So, in your shoes, I'd try to find out what the process would look like and estimate how upsetting it would be. Could you do it all through the executor and never have to talk to your siblings? Would your siblings get your contact info and harass you over this? Etc.

It also seems like a good idea to talk to a lawyer or someone who understands this process, if you can, who can give you a more detailed answer about what you would have to do, when the money would arrive, all the logistics.
posted by Ahniya at 11:48 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]

(Also, I'm not a Scottish lawyer, or your lawyer, but if it's true that Scottish law confers certain automatic rights of inheritance on children, it would make perfect sense for the executor to contact you through a lawyer. In fact, I'd expect it would be an obligation to contact you.

If nothing else, L3000 is pretty weak as a lure to get you to generate fees by filing a claim. Common sense.)
posted by praemunire at 11:49 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the update! If this money is legally owed to you from the estate, and can be claimed with minimal fuss, then I agree take it and donate it, perhaps to support youth in need.
posted by muddgirl at 11:51 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Please claim the money and give it away by whatever means are most satisfying to you. You have an opportunity to put some good into the world here.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:54 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]

I'd take it (obviously) and put it aside in a separate bank account. Then at my leisure I'd either

a. hold onto it as against emergencies (including emergency help to another person)

b. buy interesting stocks with it at the next market dip. If the investments fail, it was worth a shot. If they grow, see (a).
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:00 PM on April 28

You're not taking that money, you're picking up a magic wand and granting a wish to someone else.

- Give it to these gorgeous animals whose caretakers can't fundraise now, the Edinburgh Samoyed Rescue

- Give it to this group helping young people in the UK, Childline

- Give it to the nearest, small foodbank, because food is comfort
posted by wenestvedt at 12:09 PM on April 28 [5 favorites]

Oh God take the money. It is 100% okay to take the money from terrible people, just not give it to terrible people. You don't have to hold a moral highground or donate it to charity. That money can buy you an electric bike or a future holiday or whatever you would enjoy.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:21 PM on April 28 [25 favorites]

Lots of good suggestions above. I just want to note that it is not ridiculous to be upset by this. In fact it seems totally reasonable to feel upset and destabilized by a letter like this. You probably have some time to respond, so feel free to take your time. That way you can feel more sure that you are making the decision that will feel best for you in the long run.
posted by ewok_academy at 12:23 PM on April 28 [15 favorites]

"Lots of good suggestions above. I just want to note that it is not ridiculous to be upset by this. In fact it seems totally reasonable to feel upset and destabilized by a letter like this."

Was coming to say exactly this. Your feelings are not at all ridiculous so don't beat yourself up please!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 12:48 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

A charity helping young people in need seems like a perfect fit.

Do you have a friend or partner who can handle most of the mundane details for you (emailing with the lawyers, etc.) so you don't have to think about this too much?

You could even use some of the money to pay someone to talk to about it -- like a therapist, for example, and if you don't actually want therapy you can look for one who'll be willing to just sit and listen to your feelings once a week until this is done. (I mention paying instead of just talking with friends because friends might be all "so, have you done it yet? Shall we talk about it right now??" when you might not be in the mood for the subject.)
posted by trig at 12:50 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]

I have had to track down a self-estranged family member for...technicalities, there was no money after health bills rolled in. It was clear they did not want to open up old trauma, and contact information was not shared beyond what was legally required and I was clear that there was No Interest in reunion when others asked. For the house, do you want to know the story? Transfers often happen before death for a variety of reasons, sometimes involving avoiding taxes, avoiding creditor claims several years ahead of needing skilled nursing care, caregiving, and even family purchase. Some details may be available within land records, or via a very-focused conversation with the lawyer’s office about transactions.

Take the money to remind your siblings that you matter and are happy to take up space in the world.

On my experience, I have often thought my self-estranged sibling missed a whoooooole lot of parental drama (and emotional labor) over several decades, a good move for self-care.

Grief is also recognizing that all of your feelings about parents no longer have living people to be part of that reflection. Park the money and figure out how to create more personal peace for yourself -for all that you have grown into since your parents kicked you out at 18.
posted by childofTethys at 1:34 PM on April 28

Take the money - and use it to rent a billboard, across from annoying-sib's home or work, saying: DAD WAS ABUSIVE AND YOU ARE A JERK., don't actually do this. But think about it, for as long and as clearly as it takes to put a smile on your face.
posted by WaywardPlane at 1:52 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]

Totally honest -- my gut-reaction is that if this was me and my estranged father, I'd do absolutely nothing. I know that the emotional toll this would take on me is more than I can bear, and doing good for myself or for others with it would not be worth the cost. I accept that and am okay with letting whatever comes, go.
posted by sm1tten at 1:55 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Take the money and do whatever you want with it. Donate it to charity, buy a really nice TV, go on a post-COVID vacation, give it to a friend who can use it, put it into savings. Don't worry how your siblings will feel about it if you can help it. But certainly don't let their hypothetical reaction color what you decide to do. Don't cut off your nose to spite their faces.
posted by lunasol at 1:59 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]

As someone who is completely estranged from my terrible parents, I tend to feel that their entire estate should come directly to me as compensation for my childhood. I’d happily take some money and have a little fun with it—especially if they didn’t plan for me to have it. So much the better!

I may be a little bitter on this issue.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:19 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]

My mom was in a similar position when her parents died and she took the money and spent it happily and spitefully on luxuries of which they never would have approved or permitted (they were pointlessly, despairingly frugal, completely emotionally absent when they weren't being outright emotionally abusive, and quite a bit of her childhood was neglected both physically and mentally). Think upgrading to business class on her next trip and the like.

If I were in this situation, I would absolutely claim it and just sit on it for awhile until it feels less loaded and then decide how to disburse it. I don't doubt at all that receiving that letter was incredibly destabilizing and I'm sorry it has brought up so many terrible feelings for you. Wishing you peace.
posted by anderjen at 2:54 PM on April 28 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry that happened to you. The death of someone you're estranged from is a particular kind of painful. And then from nowhere to get mail about the estate, two years later. That is quite a lot to process.

In your shoes I would take the money as some have suggested, and put it aside until the perfect thing comes up. One day you'll see somewhere that money could really be useful, and you'll have it available. But, you know, there is nothing wrong with not taking it either.
posted by BibiRose at 4:55 PM on April 28

If you don't have to jump through too many painful hoops to get it, consider it assholery tax and spend/donate it with glee.
posted by kate4914 at 5:33 PM on April 28

I don't think rejecting this money will give you any closure. Take the money and donate it to a cause you love, where you will feel good by what the money can do in the world. Or keep it for yourself.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:42 PM on April 28

I'd urge you to do whatever you think is best, and to not even consider the effect your actions might have on your siblings, as that's according them too much power and influence over your life.
posted by orange swan at 6:03 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Consider mentally framing this potential for receiving money as you would if you were receiving a refund for overpaying your taxes or a utility bill — it isn’t a gift; it isn’t a kind gesture for which you owe gratitude; it is legally owed to you as a matter of law and birthright.

Speaking of which, since you don’t need that amount for survival, consider (I can’t believe I’m saying this but) consulting an attorney who represents you alone (not the siblings and not the estate) and make sure you aren’t actually owed or entitled to significantly more money by doing something differently than by accepting the £3,000 without further investigation of your legal rights—just make sure your attorney won’t charge more than that sum for what should be very basic legal advice in your jurisdiction. I’d rather pay an attorney the “free money” I was offered if it meant I was able to be sure the siblings/estate weren’t cheating me out of something better.

If it turns out you could get more than £3000, then that’s great too, and you should come back here and ask whether you should keep or donate some or all of an unexpectedly huge amount of money....
posted by DB Cooper at 7:17 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]

I did not edit soon enough, so I will add this to the above: At least pay the lawyer to read the letter and figure out if there was a will or not—that could be a very significant detail. Maybe you are entitled to more than £3000 and the reference to £3k is just the portion that isn’t taxed by an inheritance tax or something (speaking hypothetically, I have no idea.) Just make sure you aren’t leaving money on the table—someone with a very nice house may very well have had more moveable property than just your portion that equals £3k. I’d want to know what fraction that amount represents: 1/3 split amongst the kids? 1/2? Who knows until you get some basic legal advice...
posted by DB Cooper at 7:40 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

ElasticParrot, I totally empathise with the feelings this letter has brought back to you; it's a complex, traumatic issue, and I don't think it's a matter of "privilege" if you were to decide to try and forget the whole thing and make no claim.

There is of course the possibility that you accepting your legal right in this case may spark animosity from your siblings, estranged or not -- these situations, where money and entitlement and greed are at play, can certainly bring out the worst in people.

That being considered, I think Option 3 in your original post sounds like an admirable way to accept this inheritance.
posted by NatalieWood at 2:37 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

You should at least respond to the lawyer's query, thus enabling the estate to be settled. I am not sure how it would play out in your jurisdiction, but refusing to interact with the lawyer could cause the estate to need to be settled with greater involvement of the court system. Increased involvement with the courts will likely make everything more complicated, stressful, and painful for everyone, including for you.
posted by mortaddams at 5:19 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

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