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Monday, October 29, 2012

You don't have to like what's in your parent's will

I wonder why people feel they have the right to decide what is "fair" in another person's will. Where does the sense of entitlement come from? The following note I received recently from a reader of this blog is typical of many I receive. It reveals an unhappiness with the terms of another person's will, and a willingness to jump in, question, judge and possibly force a change.

"My father (deceased) married the woman he had an affair with, and one of the executors (my brother) has claimed that all the grandchildren from both sides will inherit equally according to the will. Is this fair as the second wife has more children, who in turn have more children, and my father's blood grandchildren stand to get a very diluted inheritance, if any. Do they have any rights as beneficiaries and should I try to see the will for myself to review it?"

The father has every right to leave his money to anyone he decides and nobody has to like it. It's his money. His will. His choice. The father isn't obligated to leave any of his money to his "blood grandchildren" or even to his own children for that matter, so nobody should feel that they have the right to question his will on the basis that the blood grandchildren will receive less. If he wants to make an equal distribution among grandchildren, so be it.

The contents of the will appear to have come as a surprise to the reader, and I can guess why. If the father had told anyone that he was planning to benefit all grandchildren equally, he would have been under unwanted pressure to change the will. Pressuring someone to change a will to favour you or your children is elder financial abuse, no matter how you rationalize it.

This wouldn't appear to be a case of a son protecting a vulnerable older person against a recent friend who has coerced a senior into changing the will. I can certainly understand interference where it appears a senior is unwillingly being influenced by someone. In this case we are talking about a marriage and there is nothing to suggest it was a recent marriage. Also, the will is not particularly one-sided, as it sets out an equal share to everyone.

The reader's desire to see the will for himself (and presumably make a decision about the accuracy of the executor's statements regarding the grandchildren) is interesting, as the reader would appear not to be a lawyer or anyone else trained to interpret wills. If the father has passed away and the reader has not been given a copy of the will, I assume this is because the reader is not entitled to see the will. You don't get to see someone else's will just because you want to see it. The fact that the deceased is a parent doesn't entitle an adult child to see the will. If you're a residuary beneficiary, you'll get a copy. If not, you won't. Again, nobody has to like it, but that's the rule. 

I get the impression that the reader would like to read the will, make his own decision about who gets what, then attempt to force the executor to do things his way. This may also be why he was not named as an executor.

Where a parent has mental capacity to make a will, and takes all legal and moral obligations into consideration when making that will, the parent's wishes as expressed in the will should be respected.


  1. As a subnote, you may wish to point out for readers that if some dies resident in BC, their children, including adult independent children, have a right to question and challenge Wills under the Wills Variation Act.

    1. You're right, they do have that right. The applications under that act generally seem to turn on moral grounds as opposed to legal grounds. This is why I made the comment in the last paragraph of my post regarding the parent taking all legal and moral issues into consideration. I would find will planning in BC unbelievably frustrating!



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