Dear Penny: Should I Invite My Disinherited Nephews to My Will Reading?
My sister has estranged herself out of our lives for the last 16 years after saying our father abused her. I am married and without children. My spouse and I retired early due to being very financially secure. Even with our early retirement, there will be a sizable estate after we both pass.
My sister has two sons, and her husband once tried to get my grandparents to change their will in his family’s favor. Grandad saw through his plans and cut my sister’s whole family out of their will. I’ll receive the inheritance as a result, and my husband and I have not included my sister’s sons in our wills. However, I’ve instructed our lawyers to invite my sister’s boys to the will reading after we pass. They will learn the size of the estate and learn that their parents’ actions have cost them millions of dollars! My parents haven’t seen the boys in 16 years at this moment in time and it’s unlikely to change. Am I the a**hole?
— The Aunt with a Tight Fist
If your sister’s family isn’t expecting to receive any inheritance, it seems unnecessary to invite your nephews to hear just how much of an inheritance they won’t receive. It’s possible they’re not aware of the challenges between their mother and the rest of your family, and you can offer them the kindness of living in peace with whatever information your sister chose to share about her life.
A will reading typically includes any beneficiaries who will be listed in the will, as well as any disinherited heirs who might contest the will. If your sister or her sons have reason to believe your parents wanted them to receive an inheritance and can provide some proof of those wishes, they should be present for the reading of your parents’ will(s). That’ll inform them of the contents of the will(s), which they could contest.
With the estrangement you’ve described, it seems unlikely your nephews will interpret anything from you as suggesting you intend for them to receive an inheritance from your estate. If you’ve given any indication of this possibility, though, they may contest your will and provide evidence of your wishes. Barring that, they would have no reason to attend the reading of a will in which they aren’t listed as beneficiaries.
Whatever you intend for your estate, I encourage you to think generously, rather than punitively, about the impact your wealth can have for the future of your family or community. An inheritance is a gift, not an earning. When deciding how to allocate it, consider the kind of gift giver you want to be and how your gifts can help those who receive them, rather than the ways you expect heirs to earn the estate.
You’ve likely made significant sacrifices to build the retirement and the estate you own. How can you make the most of that effort to ensure your wealth provides the greatest good after you’re gone?
Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, author, speaker and personal finance journalist. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.