I don’t remember how many ugly stories about families, wills and inheritances I’ve heard in my life. I know I’ve lived through one.
And this is one instance when size doesn’t matter. Families can get very angry over not a lot of money.
In last Saturday’s New York Times’ Personal Business section, there was a interesting and familiar story about death, Alzheimer’s, money and one too many wills. Read it as a lesson in how badly things can go wrong after the death of someone who has stuff to leave to heirs. And I guess it can be a lesson, too, in how and when to write a will so that your family accepts its final resolution with as little anger as possible.
Although I have a feeling there will always be anger. Here’s how the story — When a Will Divides an Estate, and Also Divides a Family – NYTimes.com. — begins:
KATE’S father died when she was in college, but she stayed close to his side of the family. Although she moved to North Carolina after graduation, she and her three siblings returned to New Jersey a couple of times a year to visit her grandmother, aunts and cousins. She called her grandmother frequently until dementia made it impossible for them to communicate.
So when Kate, who asked that her full name not be used to protect her family’s privacy, learned from a lawyer that her grandmother’s estate had been split among her aunts with nothing left to her or her siblings, she thought there had been a mistake. Puzzled, she called the aunt who was the executor of the estate and with whom she had spent vacations as a girl.
“Her response was that my grandmother had wanted to take care of her daughters who had taken care of her for all those years,” said Kate, who is 33 and has two children and another on the way. “She wanted to make it clear to me that they did a cognitive test on her before she signed the will.”
Unpersuaded, she requested a copy of the will. It turns out her grandmother, who was suffering from severe Alzheimer’s, had signed a will in September 2012 that reaffirmed a 2007 will that split her assets among her five children, with her son’s share going to his children. Five days later — and a week before she died — the grandmother signed another will that disinherited her son’s children.