By Quentin Fottrell
My wife and I were unable to have children and we both had successful careers. We retired just before the COVID-19 crisis hit. I have not spoken with or heard from two of my siblings and their children in the last 10 years.
We own several rental properties that generate a solid income, and we live a pretty frugal lifestyle. Our estate has a value in the neighborhood of $7 million. We have a total of six siblings, and my family trust currently divides our estate equally between them all, regardless of the number of children.
My issue is that both of my siblings are no longer on speaking terms with me due to my political beliefs (I’m a Trump supporter) and my decision to not get vaxxed. I have not spoken with or heard from my nieces and nephews in the last 10 years. I think it is pathetic to isolate a family member for those reasons, but that is a choice they have made.
When I die I don’t want my siblings and their children to enjoy inheriting several million dollars from me. I feel closer to some of the nieces and nephews on my wife’s side than some of her other nieces and nephews. I am considering leaving my half of our estate to just two of her nieces. This could create some family friction, and that concerns me.
What would you advise?
Husband, Uncle & Brother
Dear Husband, Uncle & Brother,
When faced with deeply personal decisions, I ask myself, “How will this make me feel?” With that in mind, ask yourself: “How would it make me feel to cut my siblings and their kids out of my will?” Your answer may be: “Great!” Or you may just feel rotten. If this estrangement has lasted for a decade, your differences in worldview and how you live your lives predated the rifts you mention.
Thanksgiving dinners across this magnificent and troubled land have, no doubt, had some barnstorming, roof-raising, pitchfork-wielding debates between diehard Republicans and Democrats (and Bernie supporters, let’s not forget them). One of the goals is to sit down over a plate of turkey breast and cranberry sauce, and talk about our differences. Or even better: Pass the salt, and avoid them.
Given the number of people who have died from COVID-19 — more in 2021 so far than in all of 2020 — and the highly-contagious delta variant and now a new South African variant that has roiled markets on Black Friday, I can understand why some families would have a “vaccinated only” rule for Thanksgiving dinner. Our health and those of our most vulnerable loved ones come before holiday etiquette.
I’ve lived in this country for 10 years and nothing could have prepared me for the profound divisions along party, racial and ideological lines. (And I grew up under a shadow of sectarianism. ) Supporters of different beliefs and parties go after each on social media every second of every day and, yes, the media and political classes play to the peanut gallery, keeping the embers of conflict burning brightly, nightly.
Religious beliefs vs. civil liberties
But it’s a tragedy when this environment tears families apart, pitting brother against brother. It takes a lot of hurt and momentum to keep those resentments burning. We all have white lines — subjects on which we agree to differ and/or discuss — and “never cross” red lines — support for the January 6 rioters storming the Capitol — and they vary wildly from person-to-person.
One man’s religious beliefs is another woman’s civil liberties. From what I have seen these past 10 Thanksgivings, never the twain shall meet. When I have a challenging encounter, I sometimes ask myself: “They are my teacher. What have they been sent to teach me?” Maybe we both need a lesson in humility. Or perhaps the healthiest thing to do is simply to walk away.
You believe you are on the receiving end of self-will and political intractability. I caution you against making final decisions based on anger, righteous or not. Leave the most generous sums of money to your closest siblings and their kids, and lay down your sword by giving a more modest amount to your estranged siblings’ children. Or set up a family educational trust for all nieces and nephews.
That token gift says: “I see you and acknowledge that you are part of our family, and on the day of my death I want you to know that I truly believe in a time and place where we can all see eye to eye, and bring more compassion and understanding to the table. My parting gift to you is that we could all have done things differently, and that any issues between me and your parents end here.”
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More from Quentin Fottrell :
• My married sister is helping herself to our parents’ most treasured possessions. How do I stop her from plundering their home? • My mom had my grandfather sign a trust leaving millions of dollars to two grandkids, shunning everyone else • My brother’s soon-to-be ex-wife is embezzling money from their business. How do we find hidden accounts? • ‘Grandma recently passed away, leaving behind a 7-figure estate. Needless to say, things are getting messy’