Wills and inheritance: Should my siblings get the same as me?

Welcome to The Dilemma, where psychologist Jacqui Manning offers advice on your ethical questions and moral dilemmas. This week she helps a woman who got more than her brothers in her mum’s will.

Question: My mother recently passed away, and left me the bulk of her money. It’s not a life-changing amount – around $60,000 – but obviously I’m super grateful. We were very close. The problem is that mum left only a small token amount for my two brothers, who she was estranged from for many years. They are livid and have been sending me increasingly angry messages. I’m torn, because on the one hand, I believe it was mum’s money and so it was her decision on how to split it – but on the other, sharing the cash more evenly with my siblings won’t harm me, but will make a big difference to them. I know I’m legally entitled to the cash, but what’s the right thing to do here ethically? – Joanne, WA

Answer: Hi Joanne, firstly I’m sending my heartfelt wishes to you on the passing of your mother. Losing a parent is huge, primal, and can produce a rollercoaster of feelings because there’s no one quite like your mum. Along with the loss comes the handling of her affairs and making a string of decisions, which includes what to do with this money.

It sounds like there have been some deep and painful times within your family over the years, and only you know why your brothers were estranged from your mum, or at least your perspective on why this was the case.

Humans are complex and families even more so, and your brothers may have what they consider valid reasons for stepping away from your mum, even if you don’t agree with them.

Legally it’s not as simple as following your mum’s wishes in her will. I’m no lawyer, but in many cases, the law would side with your brothers here if they decided to make a legal claim. Which may eat into the amount you’re receiving if there are legal fees involved.

What is your relationship with them? And how would you like your relationship to be with them in the years ahead? Perhaps it’s worth thinking of a creative compromise, such as giving each brother a larger amount than your mum instructed but allowing yourself a larger share to spend on something meaningful to acknowledge the beautiful relationship you had with your mum, such as a piece of jewellery or a holiday somewhere your mum loved.

For example, if you gave yourself $30,000 and each brother $15,000 perhaps Mum would still be smiling on you from wherever her spirit may be, and your brothers would receive an amount more commensurate with being a part of the family.

It seems like it would make a significant difference to their lives and wellbeing and losing a little would not be much skin off your nose, and after all, when a baby is born every parent wants their children to be well, no matter what their relationship looked like in the end.

Jacqui Manning is The Friendly Psychologist.

Leave a Comment