A prospective client sat in my office a few weeks ago, sobbing uncontrollably. She had just learned that she had been completely cut out of her father’s will. To be sure, her relationship with her father had been difficult—she referred to him as being in a “perpetually foul mood” throughout his entire life—but they had begun to reconnect during his final years, though they remained separated by close to 1,000 miles in distance.
While their relationship was poor, the father had changed his will to deliberately exclude the client. She thought the reconciliation was enough to warrant her inclusion in the will, and she resented the fact that he hadn’t gone about changing his will to reflect the improvement in their relationship.
For so many people who find themselves “disinherited”, this cuts to the heart of the matter.
When a person—particularly a child—challenges a will, in most instances that challenge is based either on the parent’s lack of mental capacity to execute the will, or “undue influence”. When we talk about undue influence, we focus on whether a disposition is “unnatural”. In deciding that question, a court takes a snapshot of the deceased at the very moment he/she executed the will, and asks the following question:
“Does the deceased’s will reflect the state of the relationships in their life at the time he/she made the will?”
For kids who have reconciled with their parents, but whose parents didn’t take the time to change their will to account for that reconciliation, the law seems unfair and inconsistent with morality. But the unalterable, cold reality is that a parent who makes peace with a child after years of conflict is under no obligation to change their will to reflect that change in the relationship.
People are conditioned to believe that inheritance is a “right”. In fact, that was the case in medieval times. But in the modern world it’s not a right, but rather more a product of circumstance and, to some extent, luck.
This is not to say that people who are disinherited should be told to “deal with it” and to understand that love is stronger than money. There are innumerable instances where that “snapshot” shows a person establishing an estate plan that is wildly inconsistent with the relationships they had when they put the plan into place. And that inconsistency is generally brought about by other children, siblings, neighbors, financial professionals, and even attorneys whose greed is a fist behind a velvet glove of trust. Those are the kinds of cases that end up being bitterly litigated.
Attorney Alan Fanger is a Boston Inheritance attorney concentrating in will contests, challenging the validity of a will, and other inheritance matters. Alan serves the entire Greater Boston and Boston metrowest region including Norfolk County, Suffolk County, and Middlesex County, and the communities of Arlington, Boston, Braintree, Brookline, Cambridge, Canton, Concord, Dedham, Dover, Framingham, Lexington, Milton, Natick, Needham, Newton, Norwood, Quincy, Sherborn, Sudbury, Waltham, Wayland, Wellesley, and Weston, Massachusetts.