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My son says I've amounted to nothing: Should I cut him from my will?

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 2/7/2020 Quentin Fottrell

Dear Moneyist:

My son told me that I have amounted to nothing, and for that reason, he said he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. He has nothing to do with me or my side of the family. Do I have to leave my son anything when I die? Should I cut him out of my will? I live in the state of Virginia.

Disappointed Father

Dear Disappointed:

What he doesn’t need, he won’t miss. And what doesn’t belong to him, he can’t expect to have. And those you disparage in life, you can’t expect to remember you upon their death. Except you will remember him because we remember those we love and, although it is painful, we sometimes remember those who have hurt us too. It was difficult to read your letter, as short as it is.

Of course, any other unresolved issues are between you and him. But in 2020 people are too often judged by what they wear, where they live, what they do for a living and how much they make. The advertising industry drives that need for bigger, better and, well, more of whatever you’re having yourself. I’m sorry that your son appears to judge you by such criteria. 

While most Americans are struggling to keep up with rising costs amid stagnant wages, 45 million U.S. households will transfer approximately $68 trillion in wealth to their heirs and philanthropic causes over the next 25 years, according to consultancy Cerulli Associates. By then, Generation X will replace baby boomers as the generation with the greatest wealth.

Related video: Adult children leaning on parents For financial support (video by CBS Dallas)

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Back to your situation: I agree with 50% of what your son said, but not in the way he meant it. What we leave behind counts for something. But if you are only concerned with what others will leave you and/or you have hitched your values to the material gains of others, you may leave behind less than you think. If you strive to lead a good life and make amends for any wrongs, that’s a priceless legacy.

Also see: My daughter has been chiding me for frivolously spending her inheritance

I don’t know what happened between you and your son. You can reach out to mend those bridges with a letter or a card. That’s the easy part, of course. Waiting for an answer with as little expectation as possible — and/or not receiving one — is the probably most difficult part of trying to build a relationship with a former friend or family member from whom you have become estranged.

Whether you have $1 million or $100, give your will some thought. When I reflect on my life, my mind turns to the relationships in my life and some material belongings, but not money or insurance policies. Instead, my mind turns to small items that would not fetch much on eBay (EBAY) but mean something to me and, hopefully, the person or persons who receive them.

Yes, you can cut your son out of your will. By all means, leave your money or proceeds from the sale of your home to your other children, if you have them, or people in your life for whom such a bequest would make a difference. Or donate any money from your estate to help save the elephants or a local rescue organization that helps dogs or cats find their forever home. Whatever you care about.

As for your son, it does not sound like he wants or needs any money from you. That makes a change from many letters I receive. But you could leave him something that might make a difference to his life: a message of forgiveness and/or a request for forgiveness. Few, if any, people negotiate relationships perfectly and we all have asked forgiveness of others at some time in our life.

And then? I suggest leaving him something with sentimental value, and explain why you would like him to have it. There may come a time, long after you’re gone, when he realizes the true meaning of your bequest. Or he may not. He could give it to someone else, like his own son or daughter, and they might find something to love about it, or perhaps get a sense of the best part of you.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used). 

Father and son spending time together. Morsa Images/Getty Images © Morsa Images/Getty Images Father and son spending time together. Morsa Images/Getty Images
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