After her dad died, in 2012, whenever Sara asked her mother, Joan, about her finances, she would get the brush-off with: “Oh, I’m OK, honey. Don’t worry, I’m getting along just fine.” It is not a rarity for aging parents to conceal what they don’t want you to know. Of course, if you were co-managing the checkbook and financials as they age in place, you would know.
Sara visited her mother one Saturday afternoon. Sitting on the antique mahogany desk in the family study was a manila folder marked, “New Recipes.” Mom had lots of recipes, so it wasn’t a big deal. Sara was curious, so she opened it up while Mom was busy in the kitchen.
What she found was not the recipes for meatballs and marinara sauce. It was more like a series of ideas and random thoughts with pencil cross outs and rewrites. Sara was looking at changes to Joan’s Will, stipulating who would get what when she passed away. “What on earth is this all about?” Sara asked herself.
Mom and Dad had their Wills done in 2001. “So, Mom is updating her Will, years after Daddy died, and is not saying a word about it?” Sara thought to herself. And that’s when she saw it. “What? She is changing my inheritance?” Sara bristled at the mere thought of Mom having either planned or already done a codicil to the original Will, and now this?
There are lessons learned about being primed for the inevitable satisfaction of receiving an inheritance, and the inevitable unpreparedness of major disappointment of not receiving an inheritance, (or all of it) and you typically learn from the “school of hard knocks.”
Joan once told Sara, and her brothers, Edward and Jonathan, that each would inherit one-third of the family’s country-style estate and property with their children as successors.
Sara was understandably stunned when she read Mom’s notes: “To Sara: Six pieces of my cherished Tiffany jewelry and an amount of cash to be determined.” Sara wrestled with either telling her mother what she found, telling her brothers what she found, or waiting until her mother brought it up with all three kids.
Let It Go
Perhaps, this is the best advice – but be prepared. Don’t rule out that both parents have definitive reasons for wording their Wills – as you will have with yours – and as Mom has with her amended Will. Understand that it may not always appear (or be) fair.
Joan’s husband, Philip, was 10 years older, and when he got sick, he required round-the-clock home care. Joan hired a home health aide for 44 hours per week year-round. Typically, these costs average $52,624. In the last five years of his life, Philip had dementia. It is not unusual for these costs to total more than $287,000.
When parents face life-changing events, they must make life-changing decisions. Granted, their actions may jeopardize inheritances. Whether they incurred additional medical costs, payments due on large debts, investments not performing as well as expected, or something you might never know about or even expect, just know it’s their reason – and now it’s her reason – and, like Sara, you have to respect the outcome and be thankful for what you are receiving.
“Expect Nothing and You’ll Never be Disappointed”
That’s exactly what Philip used to say. In his Will, he left everything to Joan, except for $5,000 per child paid upon his death. Both Wills, however, stipulated that the family home, its property, and accompanying items were to go to “the children and their children” upon the last (parental) survivor’s death.
Clearly, Mom and Dad’s wishes were to allow the family home and expansive property to be shared, to pass freely through the generations, and for all to enjoy in the years to come.
With that in mind, Joan decided to remove Sara, 45, unmarried and without children, from this part of the Will. Both Edward and Jonathan are married with five small children between them.
Was Joan coerced into making these changes? It’s doubtful. Are Mom’s cognitive skills still sharp? Is she forgetful? Is her attorney someone you know, or know of, with a respectable reputation? These are appropriate considerations in similar situations.
Thankfully, Sara and Joan have always gotten along over the years so they talked it out. Mom had to make a difficult decision – one that ruffled Sara’s feathers – but she did not cut her out of the will. There was talk about Sara moving in with Joan and taking care of her and the house, if it was agreeable to Edward, Jonathan, and their wives.
Most times, there is a reasonable solution or compromise to be had. If you have questions or concerns about inheritance, inheritance taxes in the state you receive it, or anything else, contact us at Hefren-Tillotson today. We have knowledgeable and experienced people working in this area who can provide you with the answers you are looking for.