Where There's a Will, There's a Problem

Dear Joseph,

My fiancé's mother died recently and divided her estate evenly between her two children. My fiancé's sister has three children, and she now insists that her family should receive significantly more than half--perhaps three-quarters--so her kids can share in the estate. She acknowledges that while the law may be on my fiancé's side, his action in keeping half of the estate is immoral. Her increasingly strident harangues on the subject have thrown him into a depression. She's made it clear that if he doesn't give in on this issue, any further relationship between them will be pointless since "that will show that all you care about is money." Should my fiancé compromise and give his sister and her children part of his share of the estate?


Dear Peacemaker,

Normally, I am a big advocate of compromise, especially when it comes to family relations. And maybe if it was possible to buy real peace with his sister with a token settlement, I would suggest doing so. But in all honesty, I find her reasoning so self-serving as to be immoral. For one thing, it was the deceased mother who divided the estate between her two children (it would have been wise and right for her to leave some special gift to each grandchild), so it is now the sister who wants to thwart her dead mother's will. Since the mother's equal division of the estate strikes me as eminently fair, thwarting her will constitutes a grotesque post-death violation of the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and mother."


The sister's self-serving nature seems apparent to me in yet another way. I somehow doubt that if you and your fiancé marry and the next year have quadruplets, she would agree that the estate should be reconfigured to afford your children the larger share. Instead, she would probably come up with another self-serving argument, such as "Well, the estate should only go to those grandchildren whom Grandma personally knew."

Your fiancé's sister undoubtedly insists that her reasoning is not selfish but merely the right thing to do. Therefore, her brother could suggest that she now inform her three children that when they grow up, if one of them does not marry or is infertile, he or she will receive a smaller share in the estate than those siblings who do have children. She can further increase family harmony by making it known that the child who has more children will receive more money.

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