by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Once upon a time there were parents who loved their children. They devoted their energy and time to those kids’ well-being, and for the most part, they did well. As time passed and the children grew, those parents adapted. They let loose their hands as those darling children headed into kindergarten for the very first time. They saw those growing children through sports and scrapes. They were nervous when they went to middle and high school and learned to drive a car. But they smiled and let them grow and go. That’s what parents do.
With some of those children, the love went on, shared and returned. As adults, those children were more like friends in some ways, but the parents still played a supportive role. The parents listened when the young adults confided about college or work or a new love in their lives. They offered advice when asked, injected a wise comment here or there, and watched with pride as their adult children matured into good citizens of planet Earth. They were there to celebrate a promotion, help when someone got sick, and step into the role of grandparents to new darling loves they knew would grow and go. But for now, they would hold their grandbabies, love them, and cherish the moments. Time goes fast, and that’s what parents do.
However, somewhere along the way, one child (or sometimes more than one) changes. It can’t be considered growing in the typical way. It’s a veering off, and then looking back through eyes that no longer see the good. It’s revisionist history, a new story, a tale that doesn’t tell the truth. And sometimes it’s a twisted game. A cruel activity that tugs at heart strings and then chokes them off, repeatedly. It’s a weird racket that says I don’t want you, but you must still want me—forever.
The parent, remembering the person they once knew, hopes that son or daughter will return. Perhaps that hope never really goes away. But there comes a time when abuse, in whatever form, cannot be tolerated. So, the parents give in, move forward and make the best of things. Sometimes, that requires words (I won’t play this game anymore), or actions (block the phone number). Other times, it’s a decision to let the distance remain and even grow. The gaping gap gets knitted over because it must be. A bridge is required for a path forward. Maybe there are grandchildren from an adult child whose eyes have not changed. Maybe there are other reasons. Things like a decision to retire, an illness that puts priorities firmly on self-care and health, or a need to settle things so that firm ground is underfoot.
You have a measure of closure in that decision. And you move on. You’re even happy—with the people who love you, the hobbies you enjoy, important work that brings meaning into your life. Whatever it is that makes you you—because you are back, maybe even better.
But doors that are closed can still be opened. And because you’ve seen the twisted hindsight, the abuse or manipulation, you make a more final move. One that protects the people you love who are part of your life. You decide to change your estate documents.
You’ve deliberated for years. You know it’s all right to remove a child from inheritance, or perhaps to make a specific, limited gift. To exclude the children of an estranged adult child because they’re not born yet, you don’t know them, or if you have a son, he might have children out there somewhere. Your attorney says she’s seen people come out of the woodwork with claims. And you can always change the paperwork later if you need or want to. Your attorney tells you she advises people to do what is right for them at the current time. And the timing is right…now.
Estate planning: Estranged parents may be sad
As you drive away, you feel secure. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t feel sad. Maybe you even cry. Maybe you wonder: What if you have it all wrong? What if my son or daughter doesn’t expect this, and will one day be filled with regret? You imagine that handsome face twisted in pain. You see tears welling in those beautiful eyes. And then you remember the truth. Those eyes have changed. And so, you tuck the sadness away. You’re practiced by now. And it feels good to have taken the action you’ve been putting off. You’ve signed the paperwork for a reason.
Your attorney has validated your worries. She sees estrangement all the time. After the parents are dead and gone, she has seen the disinherited try to guilt a sibling into splitting their rightful share. You don’t want that to happen, the manipulation and abuse. So, you have protected the ones you love. You have shut the door to added stress to the ones who will be sad when you die. You can always change the paperwork, but for now you have gotten your things in order. Because that’s what parents do.
More on end-of-life Decisions and estate planning for estranged parents
To find more specific help about making end-of-life decisions and on estate planning for estranged parents, there is a chapter in Done With The Crying devoted to this topic that provides examples, tools to clarify your feelings and come to decisions you can feel secure about.
These decisions are not necessarily easy, but they are important ones. And there is the security in knowing your wishes will be honored.