Question: My mother passed away a few months ago. She was 98 and lived a full, rich life, so this is not about grief; it is about ethical distribution of money.
She and my only sibling were on the outs for the last 25 years. And because my sibling lives far away, I was the one called upon for doctor's appointments, emergencies, midnight runs to the hospital, follow-up care, etc. I was placed on all of my mother's accounts, as well as on her condominium. Before she passed she verbally instructed me that my sibling was to get nothing (sib was apprised of this many years ago), and that I was to distribute money to the grandchildren.
My mother had almost no relationship with my sibling's two children, and it was her intention that by leaving some money for them they would remember her. But she left no detailed instructions.
After paying the bills, I distributed her savings among the four grandchildren. I sent a nice note with the checks to my sibling's children saying their grandmother wanted them to have this in her memory.
I heard nothing back. I eventually phoned my sibling to verify that the checks were received. This brought back memories of my mother's complaints that she never received acknowledgments for birthday checks and such.
Now the condominium is going to sell, and we are talking more money than the several thousand dollars I distributed from the savings account.
Maybe I am being unfair, or overly sensitive, but honestly I have no interest in sending my sibling's children any more money. I sense (maybe unfairly) that sending them more will still not achieve my mother's goal in having them remember her.
I would appreciate your insight on what to do.
Answer: Decide how much you'd like to give your own kids, and give the other grandchildren the same - after a self-protective consultation with an estate attorney, just in case.
Your mother instructed you to give money to the grandchildren, and hoped it would secure her memory. I see the instructions as your business, but not the hope. Your concern about the kids' indifference might be valid, and you were indeed given leeway to decide how much to give, but I don't think, ethically, it's your place to decide whether these grandkids showed sufficient gratitude to meet your mother's definition of remember.
Consider this: They might have no idea you're deciding how much they receive; they might believe, understandably, that their grandmother decided the amount and therefore would be the one to (not) thank if they could.
If so, then to deny these grandkids more money would be to punish them for not understanding how this particular estate was set up. That honors neither your mother's wishes nor any general notion of fairness.
Plus, circumstances they didn't choose effectively denied them a grandma.
Meanwhile, if you or your children benefit most from not sharing, then that will weaken your rationale - "They don't care enough about Grandma to deserve the money!" - into a self-serving rationalization.
Yes, giving to all four grandkids equally will sting. But how long does it ever hurt when we err on the side of generosity? Maybe giving your sibling's "share" to charity would be a booster for the soul.
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