The Moneyist: My father left me his estate, and his adopted children nothing. I don’t want to lose them. What should I do?

United States

Dear Quentin,

My biological father passed away, leaving most of his estate to me. He adopted four children from my mother’s first marriage. These are my stepbrothers and sisters. We don’t even consider each other “step”-siblings, as we are close to one another.

My father left nothing to these siblings. They were grown and out of the house when my mom and dad divorced when I was 12. He was especially abusive to them when they were growing up. After my mother and father divorced, they never kept in contact with him.

The sum is rather large, and I’m going to be asked at some point how much I inherited. I’m concerned that they will be jealous and resentful. I don’t want to feel guilty, and I don’t want them to feel envious, jealous or resentful.

Please help me with how to appropriately respond. I don’t want to lose them in my life.

The Beneficiary

Dear Beneficiary,

You can’t control how other people feel, and you can’t control what they say or do. So don’t try. You will have a lifetime of anxiety and fear if you make decisions, financial or otherwise, because of how other people will feel or how you believe they may feel. You need to divorce yourself from other people’s expectations.

You should also set free your possible feelings of guilt about how your father treated you versus how he treated your siblings. You are not responsible for your father’s sins, and you did not coerce or, in any way, force him to leave the bulk of his estate to you. Your siblings did not stay in touch with your father, perhaps with good reason, and that was their choice.

You are not a politician sitting in a room full of journalists. You are not a public figure who needs to be held accountable to the electorate. You are a private individual. If you ask two siblings about their experience in a family, they could give you answers so different that they could be movies with different writers and directors. When someone asks us a question, we don’t have to answer.

You don’t have to make excuses or apologize for being the sole beneficiary of your father’s estate. You did nothing wrong then, and you did nothing wrong now. You are under no obligation to give anyone a forensic accounting of your inheritance. Say: “I feel very fortunate, and I am happy that this chapter of my life is now over, and I can focus on the here and now.”

I don’t know how much money your father left, or whether you wish to share any of it. One option is to ask your siblings, “What do you need?” Or, “How can I help?” It may be that they don’t want any part of this estate. Or you could together put a certain amount of money aside for a trust for a charity for children who are abused, or a trust to help fund family members’ education.

Whatever you decide, there is no right or wrong answer. As long as you trust your gut, and only do what feels good to you and makes you comfortable.

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