My mother-in-law has 3 daughters-in-law. What moral obligation does she have towards her stepchildren in her will?


Dear Quentin,

My in-laws have a complex family dynamic. My mother-in-law has five daughters; however, only two of them are organic. Only one of the three adopted daughters is on good terms with her. I use the term “adopted” loosely because the other three girls are from her boyfriend.

They were never married and I don’t think my mother-in-law has any legal connection to the other three daughters. I think she played a big role in their upbringing, but I don’t know if the two separated daughters even consider my mother-in-law to be their mother.

My mother-in-law plans to divide her estate unevenly among her five daughters. My wife will receive the lion’s share, while the other biological daughter will receive a little less (she has proven to be quite untrustworthy with the money).

The other three girls will not receive anything; my mother-in-law doesn’t think she has an obligation to give them anything when she dies.

Is there some kind of moral obligation for my mother-in-law to give an inheritance to the other three daughters? And what should be our response when other girls inevitably come asking for money?

Son-in-law on the winning side

Dear Winner,

Your mother-in-law has no legal obligation to leave anything to her children or stepchildren. If she died intestate, her legal beneficiaries would include her husband and biological children, assuming she does not formally adopt her stepchildren. In fact, one could argue that the only moral obligation she has is to make a will that honors her values ​​and the causes she has supported throughout her life. This may or may not include family. Fortunately, this is often the case.

Hopefully no one comes to you after your mother-in-law dies and demands money, but in case such a thing happens, just tell the injured party that you want to honor your mother-in-law’s wishes. and comply with the terms of his will. But she could help avoid such arguments – and ill will between siblings and step-siblings – by leaving something for everyone, even if she leaves most of her estate to your wife.

“Good manners should inspire your mother to leave something for her biological child and her stepchildren, even if it is a small sign with a message of hope for their future.”

In fact, if you mention beneficiaries in your will, even if you intend to exclude them, they are less likely to claim that a parent simply forgot to include them. According to Christina Crawford’s memoir, “Mommie Dearest,” her mother Joan Crawford’s will contained the infamous following clause: “It is my intention not to make any arrangements here for my son Christopher or my daughter Christina for reasons which are theirs. are well known. “

According to the law firm Comerford and Dougherty: “By engaging in open and honest dialogue, you can minimize the potential for conflict and the possibility of conflict of wills. In particular, it is important to clarify why you gave each beneficiary a gift, the selection of your executor, and your thoughts on the family. Finally, you are well advised to hire the services of an estate planning lawyer who can help you ensure that your stepchildren wishes come true.

But to answer your question about your mother-in-law’s moral obligation: I believe good manners should make your mother leave something for her biological child and stepchildren, even if it is a small token. with a message of hope for their future. The relationship lasts after a parent dies whether they realize it or not, and it can be hurtful and confusing to punish or ignore someone through their will. Why leave a bad feeling?

The worst thing you can leave with someone after you leave is a question that goes unanswered forever.

You can email The Moneyist for any financial and ethical questions related to the coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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The Monetary regrets that he cannot answer the questions individually.

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