I am looking for advice and an opinion on an inheritance issue. My wife of 13 years passed away a little over four years ago from cancer, at the young age of 38. She left behind me and our only daughter, who is now a preteen. I’m very close with my in-laws. Both of her parents are alive, as are her two brothers.
I have since remarried, which my late wife wanted me to do. My new wife has been very supportive of my daughter, and she and my first wife’s family are very accepting of each other. I got their blessing to date again prior to meeting her. My relationship with my first wife’s family has been very important to me, but I have been disappointed by their actions since then.
While my late wife was alive, her father informed me that he met with their lawyer and had decided to change their will. Before she was diagnosed with cancer, her father told me that if anything ever happened to my wife, I would receive one-third of their inheritance (divided among their three children). I was touched, and I felt a part of their family.
“‘I feel like I am being pushed out of the family.’”
Recently, my former father-in-law told me they had decided to change their will so that my late wife’s portion would be divided among their four grandchildren. I was in a bit of shock when he told me, but he said something about making sure my daughter would benefit, as I had recently gotten married. This hurt me a lot — more than I let on at the time.
I feel like I am being pushed out of the family. My wife’s share of her parents’ inheritance is being split among the four grandchildren — my daughter and her three cousins — rather than going 100% to my child. While I realize nobody is entitled to an inheritance, I feel like this is not what her mother would have wanted.
I also feel like my daughter and I are being punished for my second marriage. I am being cut out of their will, and my daughter is receiving less than her fair share. I feel very hurt about being told I would get it, then having it taken back. After all, this is something they gave their blessing on and which they agree has been good for both of us. Should I talk to my in-laws about this, or let it rest?
Former Son-in-Law, Widower, Husband and Father
Dear Former Son-in-Law,
I’m sorry your first wife died so young, and that your daughter lost her mother. But I am glad that you found love again, and your wife can help guide your daughter in this next chapter of her life. Nothing stays the same, and people say what they mean at the time. It was a lovely gesture, but circumstances change, people change and plans change. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s part of life and, for better or worse, human nature.
There are two issues here: The first involves your equating money with feelings, and the second involves the change to your former in-laws’ estate plan. On the first issue, your bond with your first wife’s family has probably weakened due to your second marriage, and the fact that she has passed away. You will set yourself up for a lifetime of frustration if you try to keep things as they were.
Of course your in-laws gave their blessing for you to date again. What else could they do? But they will understandably feel a distance from you and your new life. While you are the father of their grandchild, you are no longer their son-in-law and the husband of their daughter. You lost your wife, and they lost their daughter. Allow them their change of heart and inheritance plan.
“‘It might serve everyone better if there were no bold declarations, no disclosures and no promises.’”
The other mistake is to see a portion of your in-laws’ estate and inheritance as your wife’s share. Your wife has passed away, and there are no rules or obligations that that share must stay intact and be passed down to your daughter. It’s unusual enough that your in-laws are making promises about their inheritance and disclosing their plans. It might serve everyone better if there were no bold declarations, no disclosures and no promises.
Process your feelings of hurt, accept your in-laws’ new plans, and forgive them for changing them. They’ve been through a lot, as have you. I don’t believe you are being punished for remarrying. I merely believe that time and circumstances have shifted the sands of your families, and priorities and obligations have shifted with them.
Start thinking more about your own estate plans and less about those of your in-laws. For example, do you want your daughter to inherit your house? If so, would you give your second wife a life estate to live there while she is alive, so the house is ultimately inherited by your daughter? Do you split life-insurance policies and other accounts 50/50 between your second wife and your daughter?
These are more important questions. You may decide to alter your estate plan, just like your in-laws have done, to accommodate your new wife.
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