The Moneyist: My daughter died from a drug overdose, and two of her kids were raised by their other grandparents. I’m leaving my house to my son’s child. Is that fair?

United States
Dear Quentin,

My husband recently died and I am in the process of getting the financial paperwork into shape, because I am in my 80s and you never know. We made our will years ago, the usual kind — everything to the surviving partner. 

When the remaining partner dies, our will states that our paid-for house will go to one grandson — our son’s only child — and everything else will be divided so that our son gets half and our late daughter’s three children get the other half. At the time we wrote this will, we were not close to our daughter’s kids. Her in-laws raised her two youngest children. They wanted to save them from the mess that was their family. My daughter divorced their son and we were sort of squeezed out. I don’t blame those grandparents — they did a great job of raising those kids, but they were very protective. 

‘My daughter divorced their son and we were sort of squeezed out. I don’t blame those grandparents — they did a great job of raising those kids, but they were very protective. ‘

Here’s some background: Our daughter married a guy who is now in prison. We tried everything to help her — paid for job training, bought a house for her and our oldest grandson to live in and gave her a car.

We later found out that our daughter and grandson (who was 20 years old then) were living on the streets. Our money was being used for drugs. At that point, we cut them off. She died of an overdose. We have since developed a relationship with that grandson. He has been through drug rehab and is now clean and sober, and we are hoping for the best. 

Our son’s child will inherit our house and eventually will also inherit from his parents. The idea was that he could use the money from the house to go to college — it would pay for four years at Harvard, if he could get in. But I don’t want to have bad feelings between the cousins.

Our daughter’s two youngest will also inherit from the grandparents who raised them. Our daughter’s oldest child will get money from us, but it will be nowhere near what the others get. In addition, his money will be doled out by our son, since our grandson hasn’t yet shown that he can handle money.

I’m having trouble deciding what is fair. I can’t change what our daughter did with her life and to her children. Neither do I want to take anything away from our son and his family, who have lived their lives pretty well. What do you think?

The Grandmother

Dear Grandmother,

There’s a big difference between equitable and fair, and sometimes you have to balance your head and your heart. I recently advised a grandmother to set up a 529 plan for her only grandchild, despite the child’s asking, “Who’s nana?”

Your situation is slightly different. You are closer to your son’s child. Your son-in-law’s parents did what they thought was right by giving your daughter’s younger children as stable an upbringing as possible. 

You don’t say whether you lived a long distance from your late daughter’s children, but I assume the weeks turned into months and the months turned into years, and you did not have an opportunity to build the kind of relationship you wanted with them. You say the oldest of those children is back on the straight and narrow but still struggling to maintain a fiscally responsible lifestyle. 

Your reasoning appears twofold: You are closest to your son’s son and you believe he is most likely to go to college. I am less comfortable with the latter.

Your reasoning for leaving your home to your son’s son appears twofold: The first reason is that you are closest to that grandchild. He is, perhaps, like another child to you, especially given your fraught attempts to help your late daughter. We need to balance those feelings with the potential fallout: Will your actions cause disagreement between your beneficiaries, and will the act of leaving some grandchildren a smaller inheritance than others result in them feeling “less than” and send a negative message?

The other reason you seem to want to leave your favorite grandchild your home: You believe that he is most likely to go to college, and you believe he could make greater strides professionally than your other grandchildren. I am less comfortable with this logic. I understand that you don’t want your grandchildren to squander their inheritance, but you could also set up trusts for them with specifications about how the money can be spent.

Ultimately, I don’t believe your daughter’s three children should be punished for their mother’s mistakes. Talk to a trust and estate lawyer about your dilemma, and outline your concerns. I understand that you have different relationships with all four of your grandchildren. Given that your son’s son will also inherit from his parents, I would advocate for a four-way split of your home. A compromise, although an unequal one, is to leave half of your home to your son’s son and the rest to your daughter’s three children.

They may or may not use it for a college education, but it could provide a down payment on a house of their own.

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