The Moneyist: This man has 4 daughters, but believes only his youngest deserves an inheritance




Dear Moneyist,

Two decades ago my friend (now 67) divorced his wife and left her with three kids (20, 17 and 14 years of age at the time) for a much younger single woman. In the settlement, he transferred his share of their town house — which still had mortgage on it — to his wife.

He agreed to pay the mortgage repayments in lieu of child maintenance for his youngest daughter. He paid the mortgage repayments for about a year when he realized his ex-wife had taken on a new partner and he was living with them.

He had a daughter, who is now 16 years, with his second partner. They bought a house together 10 years ago which has a mortgage. He put all his money toward the mortgage. He is now separating from his partner and they are selling the house.

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He plans to nominate his youngest daughter as the sole beneficiary of his share (worth about $200,000) and also plans to leave her whatever assets he may have after death. His view is that the assets he has now have been generated in his second life and, therefore, must stay with the child from the second union.

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He does not think that his three daughters from the first marriage are entitled to any inheritance from him as he gave up everything he had when he left them. Their mother, his ex-wife, still owns the house and gets rental income from it and, unfortunately, has not shared any money with her daughters.

He asked for my advice and I consider that he has already provided a lavish lifestyle for his daughter from his second relationship. She will inherit a substantial amount from her mother’s share. I consider that whatever assets he ends up with should be shared between all four daughters. He thinks this is not fair.

What do you think would be fair?

A concerned friend

Dear Friend,

It seems like he has not seen his ex-wife or children in two decades. He can’t buy that time back. They may not want anything from him. He is, of course, entitled to leave his money to whomever he wishes and, reading between the lines, appears to have a close relationship with his youngest daughter. So why not leave his $200,000 to his favorite?

Because he can do something in death that he, perhaps, didn’t get a chance to do in life: recognize all four daughters and give them the respect and acknowledgment they deserve. Of course, this has very little to do with money. But a small portion of his estate could help his daughters with a down payment on a house or their education.

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He should also talk to his ex-wife and ex-partner or, at the very least, correspond with them. They could come to a mutual arrangement to leave his four children a certain amount. That would give him more clarity to make sure that his children receive an adequate amount after he and their respective mothers have gone.

I once received a letter from a mother about her two daughters. Their father had passed away. But he had sexually abused her two daughters and they didn’t want any inheritance. They were admirably selfless. Again, that was their choice, but I advised her to think again. It could help their education or they could give the money to a charity of their choice.

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So I will leave you with this quote from Sherwin Nuland, the late author of “How We Die,” which I gave another letter writer whose father wanted to cut two of his daughters out of his will: “Getting old is hard and dying ain’t pretty,” he told NPR. “What gives dignity to death is the dignity of the life that preceded it.” I love that quote. It speaks to so many issues of inheritance and lives lived with resentment and bitterness.

With a will, we all have one last chance to make amends and to make a statement that is bigger than any of the missed opportunities or broken relationships during our lifetime. We spend so much time wondering how we would like to be remembered when we are trying to make our mark with our work, friends and family. But we should spend just as much time thinking about how we would like to remember others.

Whatever your friend does, I hope that he at least remembers that.

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).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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