When making a Will, one of the most difficult decisions to make is choosing your Executor. The Executor manages the Estate, making sure taxes and other expenses are paid, ensuring the Asset distribution is in accordance with the Will and so forth.
The other important decision to make is with respect to the distribution. There is, to be sure, no one plan for everyone. In my view, every family is different, relationships are different, asset holdings are unique and circumstances of each individual member are different. Wills are unique to the person. Every person and every family has to be considered as fully different from any other.
The decision on distribution, therefore, is unique to the person making the Will.
The decision how to distribute is seldom easy. There are, in my experience, numerous ways to distribute an Estate and numerous reasons why to distribute as a Will maker wants.
What is not always considered at the Lawyer’s end, however, is the impact of a decision to disinherit a person, particularly a child. Though there can be a number of reasons to disinherit, such a decision can have a lasting impact on the person disinherited.
Last week, there appeared in the New York Times, an article by Ms. MB Caschetta, headlined “The Devastation of Disinheritance”. She relates the story of her discovery, around 2009, of being disinherited by her Father, a retired Physician. The relevant section of the Will read as follows:
“To my daughter, Mary Beth, I leave no bequest for reasons known to her”
The author tried many things to adjust to the shock. She described her feeling as being “excluded, weepy, wounded and useless”. Her Mother hid the Will, in order to try and hide the bad news from her daughter.
Ms. Caschetta, months after her Father’s death, received a copy of the Will from a Lawyer, and then discovered that she had been disinherited. Her three brothers were bequeathed most of the Estate.
She felt she had to distance herself from her family. To help cope, she tried yoga, therapy, Al-Anon and writing about the issue.
Her writing begat many responses from Americans who had suffered the same fate. She learned that there are, apparently, few resources for the disinherited. She states that she learned from her experiences and communications with others, that “All families are tragedies.”
She had stopped communicating with her siblings. Some of her siblings were not speaking with each other.
Later, Ms. Caschetta discovered a letter she had written to her Father, back in the 1990’s after she had learned that he had not wanted more than one child (that child was her older brother). She had forgotten that letter she had written. It was an unpleasant surprise.
The letter Ms. Caschetta received, very recently, was from the older brother, telling her that her brothers decided to distribute the Estate equally among all four children. She had been “re-inherited”.
It was a partially happy ending. The siblings were not all brought back together from the gesture, although Ms. Caschetta and her older brother became more communicative. She expressed the hope that her siblings would all eventually resume some level of communication.
Closer to Home
Though this story is an American one, I expect that similar stories exist throughout Canada. The New York Times article did not disclose a value of the Estate, nor whether the laws of the state permit a challenge. The article also did not touch on whether Ms. Caschetta ever considered challenging the Will.
To be sure, there are many reasons children (and spouses) are disinherited. Estrangement and need are two reasons and there are children who won’t mind being disinherited, at least if they are told why by the Will maker. This particular story is unfortunate, partly because Ms. Caschetta was not told by her Father. It would have helped (despite that letter).
In B.C., there are several remedies a disinherited Child can seek. However, the story is more about communication, as well as the potential effects on a person’s life if they are left out of their parent’s Will. In my opinion, what assets a person owns belongs to them. We allow total freedom as to how those assets are disposed of in a Will (subject to our laws relating to the legal challenges available). The best step a parent can take with their children is, at least, to inform their children (and/or spouse) how they intend to distribute in their Will. In my own family, our parents told the 3 of us long ago that they were distributing to the three of us equally. As both my parents are now gone, I can say that it helped.
A Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.