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Honor the will? Or do the right thing?
Do the right thing: Mom stiffed sis in her will. Do I owe her part of my share?
November 14, 2005: 3:24 PM EST
By Jeanne Fleming; Leonard Schwarz, MONEY Magazine

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Q. When my mother, an elderly widow, died recently, she left nothing to my sister Susan. Instead, shocking us all, Mom divided her estate evenly between my brother and me. I'm sure she had her reasons for excluding Sue, with whom she had often locked horns.

But I also feel Mom exploited my sister, relying on Sue -- not my brother or me -- for considerable care, while never revealing she'd left Sue out of her will. I want to respect my mother's wishes, and I'd prefer to keep my entire inheritance. But doesn't my sister deserve something?

ANSWER: Your mother's final wishes have been respected: Her estate went to you and your brother. Now it's up to you to remedy the injustice created as a result.

Your letter implies that you and your brother left the responsibility of caring for your mother to your sister, assuming, as Sue did, that she was included in the will. If you and he now fail to share your inheritance with your sister, you'll be stiffing her, just as your mother did.

This is not to say that every child is automatically entitled to an equal portion of a parent's estate. Far from it. But equality is not the issue here; fairness is.

While it no doubt was love, not money, that prompted Susan to care for your mom, surely more of the heavy lifting would have fallen to you and your brother had Susan understood that your mother planned to return her devotion with a stab in the back from the grave.


Jeanne Fleming, Ph.D., and Leonard Schwarz are trial consultants who advise attorneys on people's ethical beliefs. E-mail your comments about this column or your queries seeking advice about money and ethics to the authors at  Top of page

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