How inheriting money can affect your family relationships
In cases where there is an unequal inheritance, hurt feelings and resentment can be directed at the person who inherited the most.
Even if your loved one explained the reason for the different allotments, there can be lingering disputes and confusion.
To navigate these highly emotional issues, you have the option to take the initiative to talk through the issues with your family members.
You may also choose to address the issues by pooling resources and investing together in some way, in a way that benefits everyone.
Sometimes when a loved one passes away, they leave behind what’s called an unequal inheritance. As the name suggests, that means that among the beneficiaries, the allotment of money wasn’t the same and, in some cases, someone ends up getting the bulk of the assets that are left behind.
For example, if a parent has one child who is financially stable and another who is struggling, they may decide that leaving them unequal inheritances is fair, to favor the child who needs the money.
However, what seemed fair to your loved one when they wrote their will may be different than what is considered fair by those left behind.
If you happen to be the one who receives the bulk of the inheritance, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation—and it may even feel terrible. On top of that, you are all grieving someone you loved.
But there are ways to navigate these dynamics, and you have several options for dealing with these issues as a family.
Talk about it with your relatives
It is not necessary in a will to explain why each beneficiary is receiving a certain amount. While it is helpful to know what your loved one was thinking when they designated the transfer of their assets in a certain way, hurt feelings can result in either case.
Especially when it comes to unequal inheritances between siblings, it can be seen as unequal love—even though this isn’t necessarily the case, nor the intention.
If you happen to be the one who received the largest amount, then you may want to take the opportunity to talk about it with other relatives, as well as hear them out.
Conversations about money are difficult for many people, so feeling uncomfortable or even dreading the topic is completely normal.
However, if there are members of your family who feel left out—or those who need money more urgently because of the circumstances of their life—then reaching for a more equitable outcome is worth the awkwardness.
If the other beneficiaries feel that the unequal inheritance was unintentional, listen to their reasons why. If it’s known why the inheritance is unequal, but other family members don’t agree with the reasons for this, then this should be heard too.
It’s an emotionally vulnerable time for all of you, so it is important to be honest and clear with each other, communicating all sides of the inheritance debate.
Consider pooling inheritances
Instead of reallocating the inheritance, you can suggest a wealth management plan to create equality down the road.
Many of the top financial advisors require a minimum asset threshold to lend their advice—typically $100,000 or more. By pooling resources, everyone is a part of a solid financial plan and everyone benefits together.
This may be a difficult proposition to bring up because some family members may want their inheritance, no matter the amount, now.
But before you bring up this topic, you either want to do some research yourself on high-yield ways to invest or talk to a financial advisor who will give you a list of high-yield options. This way, you can be sure the total amount of inheritances goes as far as possible, and everyone wins.
If you as a family want to divide the pooled assets differently than your loved one did in their will, that is an option here as well.
On the other hand, if someone decides they’re happy with the amount they inherited, don’t try to pressure them into adding to the pooled amount.
Not everyone trusts investments, and if you choose a high-risk investment that has the potential—not the guarantee—to be high-yielding, you can’t be surprised if some family members opt out of this idea.
Although having them talk to a financial advisor could persuade them, if they don’t feel comfortable, then let it go.
The last thing you need, in addition to being the one who got the largest inheritance, is being perceived as the one who lost everyone’s money because you suggested investing it.
Assess “equal” shares that aren’t so equal
Pooling the inheritances also helps you even out any imbalances that came about in practice—when inheritance shares appeared to be equal.
For example, if you received $100,000 and either live in a state without inheritance tax or are protected by your relationship to the person who has passed away, then that amount stays intact.
However, if another family member received a $100,000 IRA, their amount will drop significantly every time they withdraw money, because that amount is taxable. Or if they inherit property that is worth much less than it was when your loved one wrote their will, this creates an unequal inheritance even though your loved one may not have intended that.
In these types of situations, pooling would be a good option because the discrepancy likely wasn’t intended.
In the case where the inequality was intended, you and your other family members who received inheritances can pool everything that was left behind—cash, assets, accounts, all of it—and distribute it equally among those who were left an inheritance or divide them based on their relationship with the person who died.
In choosing the latter, the biological children could get equal amounts, but more than grandchildren or siblings of the person who passed away, for instance. It would be fair, in terms of succession, but not necessarily equal, so you’d want to get everyone on board with that idea.
Money is a tricky topic, tied to deep emotions. You may need to air concerns about the unequal inheritance, as well as years-old anger, sadness, and resentments.
No matter what route you decide to take, it's best to have all these discussions on neutral ground and, ideally, after some time has passed after the death of your loved one, so emotions aren’t running quite as high.
Money is always a tricky topic, tied to deep emotions. You may need to air concerns about the unequal inheritance, as well as years-old anger, sadness, and resentments.
As the one with the most inheritance, it's up to you to lead the conversation and, to the best of your ability, mediate. If you feel you can’t do that, or will be perceived as biased by the other family members, then asking an outside source to do the mediating might be your best bet.
At the end of the day, it’s not likely that everyone who received inheritance will think the distribution is fair, so that’s something to keep in mind. While it’s sad to think you could lose a loved one to death, then lose another loved one over money, sometimes that ends up being the case.
As long as you feel you’ve done right and are at peace with how you navigated a difficult and uncomfortable situation, then that’s what you need to take to heart during this emotionally trying time.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
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