WASHINGTON — Money is a funny thing.
People might claim it doesn't matter to them, but its power as a symbol is undeniable. This is particularly evident when it comes to what parents leave their adult children in their wills.
In a recent column, I addressed leaving an inheritance and argued that sometimes it's not fair to divide one's assets equally among your children. I also maintained that people are acting entitled when they get angry over not inheriting what they feel is just. (The caveat is when a parent purposefully aims to punish or discriminate in a will.)
On occasion, I publish readers' counterpoints in the Color of Money "Talk Back" feature. One person thought I was wrong when I wrote that a disinherited daughter was guilty of giving in to a sense of entitlement.
"I think you are missing the point of being disinherited," the Louisiana reader wrote. "It's happened twice in my family, and it forever changed the opinion the survivors had had about the deceased person."
Before I respond, let's go through the person's points:
• "Inheritance to your children isn't about money; it's about love. To leave a child out of the will is the ultimate rejection, a total denial of love for them in a situation that can never be revisited, readdressed or repaired."
• "Sibling relationships are often destroyed just at the time they are most needed."
• "My son will inherit every penny I have because it's the way it should be. He's a generous person, so if he doesn't need it, I'm sure he'll find good use for what he doesn't need. I would never cause him the sort of hurt, pain and self-doubt a disinheritance can cause."
• "I will never forget the voice of my relative saying, 'I never thought my brother would do such a thing. He was my mother's favorite for all those years.' She needed the money, but that wasn't what she was mourning. Or the voice of my friend saying, 'My father didn't even leave me his watch. Nothing.'"
To further make a point, the reader claimed that, under Louisiana law, you cannot disinherit a child. Actually, the law says you cannot completely disinherit a child under 24 or a child of any age who is permanently incapacitated. These so-called "forced heirs" are entitled to a certain portion of their parents' assets.
In summation, the reader wrote that being disinherited is an irrevocable statement of love being "withheld."
Wow. That's a lot of love measured strictly by the money or possessions that are left to heirs.
The reader made the assumption that I had never been involved in situations where people were disinherited. I have. And it was ugly.
People are imperfect. And sometimes they use money to express their hurt or disappointment. Parents might not leave money to an adult child who married someone of a religion or race they didn't like. Maybe they weren't cared for in their old age. They disagree with their children's life choices. Sometimes parents decide on the allocation of their property for reasons that seem fair to them, such as one child is in need and the other isn't.
I would hope people really consider the consequences and potential fallout of their inheritance decisions. Nonetheless, whatever is in the will is still the right of the person drawing it up.Comment on this story
But, and I'm speaking to heirs now: What you get is not the summation of your relationship with your parents. If you choose — and it is a choice — to fight or resent your siblings for a decision that ultimately was not theirs (absent any malfeasance), that's on you and is an indication of your character or maturity. Even if — by a reasonable assessment of the situation — you were unjustly slighted, you are still not entitled to your parents' money.
Your inheritance, or lack thereof, is not a placeholder for the physical or emotional support you did or didn't receive. Look at this issue another way: If you weren't properly cared for, would receiving a hefty inheritance make up for poor parenting?
It's human if you are upset at being left out or if you didn't get something you thought you deserved. But don't measure your worth — or your parents' love — by the contents of a will.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at SingletaryM or Facebook at facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.