Life Advice



Ask Amy: Inheritance leads to a Dickens of a problem

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: My dear brother died four years ago, leaving his daughter "Patsy" as his sole heir. My brother was long-divorced, and lived a couple of hours away from my sister and me; though we remained close to him, we didn’t know Patsy well, whose mother didn't think much of us. Nonetheless, I sent her birthday cards, graduation and wedding gifts, etc. (though I never received a thank you).

I recently turned 70, and though in good health, have begun to consider the inevitable. I have no children, nor does my sister. I have tried to engage Patsy on Facebook, where she is a prolific presence. I know an awful lot about her job, her kids and her politics! As the nation's political life has gotten super-intense, I have tried to counter some of her most extreme claims. I research my facts, use calm and respectful language, am quick to admit a mistake, and avoid escalation.

The responses I get are reactive, emotional, insulting and IN ALL CAPS! Her fiance is patronizing, dismissive and foul-mouthed. I will no longer follow them on social media.

Here's the dilemma: my husband and I have a substantial estate. We worked for every penny of it. Right now, Patsy is set to inherit a big chunk of it, and I know she could use it. If I cut her out, the money goes to charities and my husband's many nieces and nephews, all of whom are very nice to me.

My brother would roll over in his grave if he knew what Patsy has become. I want to cut her out of my will, and am so angry that I want her to know I have cut her out, which makes me feel like the manipulative, mean old aunt in a 19th-century novel. Can I cut her out, but not tell her?

She may be counting on an inheritance. Am I being petty?



Dear Auntie: “Patsy” has already received an inheritance – from her father. I think that you -- with a substantial estate and other people and causes to give to -- might set aside a nominal amount for her, recognizing the family tie. Then you should give, donate, and grant the rest according to your own interests and values. (One suggestion is to do the bulk of your giving, if possible, during your lifetime.)

What you should NOT do is to use your money (or the prospect of inheriting it) to manipulate or punish anyone else.

There is no good reason to discuss your plans with Patsy. Given her pugnacious attitude toward you, she would be a fool to expect much.


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