Should I Leave More for the Non-Estranged Child in My Will?
By Dr. Joshua Coleman
What about the siblings who have been good to me? Why should they get the same amount as the child who didn’t give me anything except headaches and heartbreak?
Many parents feel like it’s unfair to give the same amount to children who haven’t been involved in their lives when the other children have. This may be especially true for children who have been involved in helping take the parent to doctor’s appointments, fixing things around the house, or simply being kind to the parent in an ongoing way. Why shouldn’t they get more than the estranged child?
Overall, I think you have to make several assumptions about a child who is still estranged at the time of your death: He or she may have:
- Mental illness or addictive issues
- Married someone who has made it impossible to be close
to you and his/her spouse in the same lifetime
- Unresolved feelings about the relationship with you that
haven’t been addressed
- Been so poisoned by your ex that their ability to see you
was permanently altered
In other words, there are plenty of reasons that a child might maintain an estrangement even on your deathbed, that may be due to something that is not entirely their fault. And if that’s the case, we are doing a long-term disservice to them as their parents to cut them out of our wills.
Protecting the surviving children
Cutting a child out of a will may also create lifelong, unresolvable problems for the siblings that survive. If a troubled and angry estranged sibling decided to create a problem for the other siblings in court, he or she could easily cost them thousands of dollars in court fees trying to defend themselves.
In addition, any chance that the estranged child would or could reconcile with the siblings if he’s also estranged from them is also diminished if not eradicated because of the rivalry or bitterness that will ensue.
If you’re concerned about a potential legal battle after your death, be sure to consult a good attorney to help you address some of these issues in your estate planning.
If you need help knowing how to address how estrangement can affect non-estranged family members.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JOSHUA COLEMAN
Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University, The University of California at Berkeley, The University of London, Cornell Weill Medical School, and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine.
Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice has appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London, The Shriver Report, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.