When Inheritances Hurt
Your mother has willed her emerald and diamond ring to your sister. You're feeling angry and hurt: Mom knew how much I loved that ring. Why would she leave it to Carrie?
We've all heard the nightmare stories of families being torn apart by wills, spending years and thousands of dollars in court -- surely an outcome the parent didn't intend. It's rarely just about the money or property, writes family psychologist Peter Goldenthal in his book Why Can't We Just Get Along?: Healing Adult Sibling Relationships.
"Money is a way to argue over core feelings, such as loyalty and acknowledgement. Because of this, the intensity of bad feelings between and among siblings is often completely unrelated to the amount of money in the will." So what can you do about these feelings? We spoke to Jennifer Mansell, a social worker and a therapist in Calgary.
Fresh Juice: Why do the contents of wills elicit such strong emotions?
Jennifer Mansell: It's related to people feeling favoured or unfavoured by the deceased parent. It can be viewed as a final message about the value of the relationship.
FJ: How can those feelings affect relationships with siblings?
JM: Inheritances can get in the way of the relationship if one sibling is left the majority of an inheritance or given something specific from family property. There's an automatic response of resentment and it can unearth old jealousies.
FJ: Why is it important to deal with these emotions?
JM: If you're caught up with the inheritance and feeling jealous about it, you're not allowing yourself space to grieve; it stunts the healthy grieving process. You might find that, months later, you're feeling depressed, and you're actually just then experiencing grief and loss because you were consumed by the jealousy.
FJ: What should you do if you're feeling jealousy about a parent's will?
JM: An open conversation with your sibling focused on the feelings can help. However, since the emotions can be very complicated and compounded by the fact that you're also dealing with the loss of a significant person in your life, I would recommend getting support through counselling.