What's A Family To Do...Inheritance, Equal or Not?


Inheritance reflects the time individuals have spent considering the

future impact of what they do now on future generations. At the most negative end people use their wills as a way to punish people. They cut out the ones who annoyed them and reward the ones who were pleasing.

Thanks to Darwin and Murray Bowen MD, we know there are excellent reasons for variation in the level of maturity in family members. The lower the level of maturity in an individual, the more likely they are to have an extreme reaction to the “unfair” way they have been treated by their children.

A negative focus on a child can begin as early as when the mother becomes pregnant with a child, and the father sometimes going along with the mother’s negative behavior. The father can also just be quiet and not agree or indicate to either the mother or the child that he takes their side.

This may become a long-standing pattern of confusing communication between family members. Side taking or triangles also creates a pattern wherein the child or children who do not do what the parents want are punished. The child can then become revenge oriented.

One or both parents can use inheritance as a means of inflicting punishment. By ganging up on a child as the bad one, parents can gain “cheap energy.” People automatically, without awareness, can find themselves blaming and cutting off from children as though they had nothing to do with the nature of the relationship.

When parents are more mature, they do the opposite, and stay in contact, working on managing self in the relationships without blaming anyone. Emotional maturity indicates that people are able to see the family as a system and they are choosing to work on self.

There are aware family members who are open to the importance of using the inheritance as a way to talk about their own values and hopes for the future without constraining and punishing their children.

These families make an effort be fair and make sure that each child is give an equal amount of money or property. If there are children who cannot care for his or her self, then special trusts are created.

Families where there is significant wealth often have family meetings whereby the future impact on family members and on a family business can be considered. The question of how to divide different kinds of properties can be talked about out in the open.

In cases where only one sibling has received an inheritance, I have seen mature individuals take it up with immature parents and say, “When you die I will work out the best way so that everybody gets a share of the inheritance, as I do not want to contribute to passing on suffering and hate when you die.”

That said, there are also individuals who are fearful, with good reason, of their parents’ reactivity, as they know they could be disowned. For these individuals they can tell their siblings, “I’ll do my best to make things more equitable, but it would probably be better if each of us were to work things out as best we can with each parent before they die. “

In both examples the key is communicating a statement where one takes position related to their own values, and in so doing communicates that there is more than money that people inherit. Becoming more and more emotionally mature is the best inheritance that anyone can have.

When the matter of inheritance is handled poorly it allows unfairness to persist and can set up generations of emotional cut off between the “insiders” (those whom the parents liked) and the “outsiders” (those whom the parents did not). Less mature children often have a tendency to react and seek revenge, and it can take a long time, multiple generations, for the actions of the parents to be forgotten, if they ever are.

In thinking about inheritance and who gets what, good questions for parents and siblings to ask themselves are “what is the impact of unfairness on the family as a whole?” What happens when family members who are not in synch with others are “punished?” What is the effect on a family when it divides into “insiders” and “outsiders?" And, what will happen to those who are cut out of a will?


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