Estate planning (estranged parents) Is the paperwork done?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estate planning estranged parentsOnce 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.

estate planning estranged parentsHowever, 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.

estate planning estranged parentsYou 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

estate planning estranged parentsAs 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.

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9 thoughts on “Estate planning (estranged parents) Is the paperwork done?

  1. JM

    I too have taken my ES and ED out of my will am leaving everything that is left to my other 2 children. I have been giving things away to live long friends and others I see in need, they appreciate it way more than my two oldest barnacles would. I feel really good about my decision and I don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior.

  2. Tovah

    It really stings that our estranged daughters both keep popping up out of nowhere asking for financial help, while wholly rejecting us.
    College related expenses, medical expenses, auto insurance, even cell phone expenses. It’s time to stop paying for these things and, further, remove them as beneficiaries on our retirement accounts and pursue changing our estate documents.
    Inheritances should be based on relationships and not birthrights and having no relationship with them feels like we are gifting strangers (hostile ones too!) with significant amounts of money.
    Admittedly, this ongoing expectation of financial support feels like we are being taken unfair advantage of and perhaps even ridiculed by them in the process for doing so.
    As you said, Sheri, the timing is right … now.

  3. Dee R.

    Reading how you managed your estate, I also hope se enjoys all the pics, etc! How lucky she was to have such loving dotting parents! I myself have just taken my son out of my Living will, it hurt, but worked so hard being a single mother, felt I needed to give it to my daughter who respected and lives me! My heart goes out to you, wishing you all the best!

    1. JanPhyllis

      I have after careful, very careful thought changed my will!!
      It was the fear of how he would treat me if I outlive my husband and the estranged one (who in my former will had all the power) would treat me! I have heard horror stories of what children have done to their elderly parents that scared me into it! My own mother in law was abused in a way that horrified me! My lawyer asked me if I was at peace with my decisions………my answer a resounding YES!!!
      Now if I could figure out what to do with the fine cystal, silverware and my most precious other items I could go on a nice vacation NOW while I can still walk!!!!!
      Just to let you know I’m not a monster with my estranged one
      he more than enough ripped me off of money for the last 21 years AND just before he estranged me I gave him special, very special items of my parents!!! Mistake!! Few weeks later the estrangement began!!! Learn from my mistakes!!!!
      Please may you all be at peace in whatever you decide!!!!!
      Love to you all

  4. Darlene P.

    Where I live (BC Canada) they have odd estate laws about leaving siblings equal shares of your estate. I find this insulting it’s my hard earned money/assets and I should be able to do with it what I like. If anyone knows how to get around this lunacy please let me know and thank you. As heartbreaking as it is why should I be forced to leave someone anything who has treated me so coldly and disrespectfully? I love my daughter very much but she has hurt me more and deeper then anyone or anything else has.

    1. rparents Post author

      Hi Darlene, have you thought of giving some cash now to your loyal child? It’s not getting around anything, but depending on circumstances, it’s an option for some. Check with an accountant… Legal limitations can apply.

      Sheri McGregor

  5. Paula

    We updated our estate documents during COVID. The abusive daughter is no longer in the will. It was a relief to take her off and designate our youngest daughter as POA. We decided we needed to protect our youngest from the oldest’s vitriol. I actually feel better now that our affairs are in order knowing she can’t bully her sister. As far as stuff, we trimmed everything down and mailed her baby photos to her house.

    1. Tara T.

      Love it.
      My daughter and SIL really fixed it for themselves…..we did nothing but love, care and support them in every way possible but some how we turned into evil, toxic people.

      My disabled son will get Everything, and daughter will receive 17 albums filled with pix of her throughout a childhood filled with holidays, adventure, precious memories and many fabulous experiances {including cruises, trips to Europe….does she even Remember we sent her to Florence for 3 weeks to live in a 16th century villa to study opera for her graduation??} also about 50 video tapes of her growing up, as well as about 60 DVDs and CDs of her singing and acting performances in school. Hope she likes them.


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