The Moneyist: I have an $8.5 million estate and nine kids — three of whom have not proven to be responsible. Should I cut them out of my will?
I married my girl from high school in 1972. We graduated and she went to medical school. She graduated and has worked as a doctor since 1978. I worked in computers.
We went from having less than $4,000 to $8.5 million. We are old and our pleasure is planting (my wife) and travel (for me) as Minnesota is cold. We also spend our time working on the farm. We had two birth children, and adopted seven children.
With our estate, my wife and I split things equally. She wants $500,000 to go to our church. I do not have a problem with that, even though we have supported it and have paid a faithful tithe for our 49 years together.
Our two eldest children work in a hospital and our third eldest got a religious degree and did missionary work overseas for 12 years, and now is sort of a paraprofessional. Two other children are living in properties that I bought for them.
I would like to give my eldest son double what I give the other kids, but I would like to exclude three of my children from my will for three different reasons: gambling, leaving home at 16, and trying to shake me down for money (long story).
My wife wants me to change my mind with one of my children who declined to pursue an education, and has been holding down a job, if not a very well-paid job. Must the assets be divided equally? What is your take on this?
Father of Nine in Minnesota
Dear Father of Nine,
Sometimes, the clue is in the question. In this case, the clue is in your signature. You are a father of nine. Not a father of six. You don’t mention what church you belong to, but I trust it’s one that teaches forgiveness and public service rather than punishment and conditional love.
It sounds like you and your wife built a good life, lived below your means, and created a sizable nest egg. You can afford to be generous and have the power to give some children more than others, but sometimes the message comes from not exercising that power.
You have raised nine children and you want them to be happy — but also, I hope, to become individuals, follow their dreams, develop their own set of values with the foundation you and your wife have given them through your own example, and, yes, even make their own mistakes.
“You can afford to be generous and have the power to give some children more than others, but sometimes the message comes from not exercising that power.”
Your letter doesn’t say whether your one child left home at 16 due to problems in your relationship; because they did not subscribe to your house or family values, rules and/or spiritual-belief system; or simply because they needed to find their own feet and strike out on their own.
If you were upset with them leaving home at 16, I would gently suggest that they were too young to be punished for that decision at such a young age — and, as we all know, sometimes it’s hard to repair relationships once the damage has been done.
If you don’t trust your children to use their inheritance wisely, I would suggest leaving them money in a trust that has specific requirements — like a college degree of their choice — or with an income over years to ensure that they remain solvent and stable.
By cutting some children out of your will, you may die leaving behind your ill will, hurt feelings, confusion and anger. A will that specifically excludes some children may cause lasting damage to your children and their relationships, and leave no room for healing.
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