By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
My son told me that I’ve amounted to nothing and he doesn’t want anything to do with me. He has nothing to do with me or my side of the family. Do I have to leave my son anything when I die? Should I cut him out of my will? I live in the state of Virginia.
What he doesn’t need, he won’t miss. And what doesn’t belong to him, he can’t hope to have. And you can’t expect those you disparage in life to remember you upon their death. Except you will remember him, because we never forget those we love — and, although it is painful, we sometimes remember those who have hurt us, too. It was difficult to read your letter, as short as it is.
Of course, any unresolved issues are between you and him. But people are too often judged by what they wear, where they live, what they do for a living and how much they make. The advertising industry drives that need for bigger, better and, well, more of whatever you’re having yourself. I’m sorry this relationship broke down and that your son reportedly judges you by such criteria.
While people grapple with rising costs amid stagnant wages, 45 million U.S. households will transfer $68 trillion in wealth to their heirs and philanthropic causes over the next 25 years, according to consultancy Cerulli Associates. By then, Generation X will replace baby boomers as the cohort with the most wealth. Many folks appear to have a financially co-dependent relationship with their elders.
I agree with part of what your son said, but not in the way he meant it. For those who are financially independent, but what we leave behind counts for something. If he hitched his values to the material gains of others, your son may leave behind less than even he thinks. If — on the other hand — you strive to lead a good life and make amends for any wrongs, that is a legacy without a price tag.
I don’t know what happened between you and your son. You can reach out to mend those bridges with a letter or card. That’s the easy part, of course. Waiting for an answer with as little expectation as possible — and/or not receiving one — is probably most difficult part of trying to build a relationship with a former friend or family member from whom you have become estranged.
Whether you have $1 million or $100, give your will some thought. When I reflect on my life, my mind turns to the relationships in my life and some material belongings, but not money or insurance policies. Instead, I think of small items that would not fetch much on eBay (NAS:EBAY) , but mean something to me and, hopefully, the person or persons who receive them.
You can cut your son out of your will. By all means, leave the proceeds from the sale of your home to your other children, if you have them, or to people in your life for whom such a bequest would make a difference. Or donate money from your estate to help save the elephants or a rescue organization that helps dogs or cats find their forever home. A small amount of money could save one animal.
It does not sound like your son wants or needs anything from you. That represents a change from many letters I receive. But you could leave him something that might make a difference to his life: a message of forgiveness and/or a request for forgiveness. Few people, if any, negotiate relationships perfectly, and we all have asked forgiveness of others at some time in our lives.
I suggest leaving him something with sentimental value, and explaining why you would like him to have it. There may come a time, long after you’re gone, when he realizes the true meaning of your bequest. Or he may not. He could give it to someone else, such as his own son or daughter. They might find something to love about it, or perhaps get a sense of the best part of you.
And if he has spurned all efforts to reach him? Write him a long letter, read it aloud, burn it, take a deep breath, thank God, the gods or the universe for whatever you have in your life, and let go.
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