By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
You always wanted the best for your children. You probably still feel that way, even if one or more of your kids grew up and called you toxic. Moms and dads with estranged adult children struggle with decisions about estate planning. Should you leave things to them? According to the ideas of one money expert, an inheritance from estranged parents could do them more harm than good.
Margaret M. Lynch, author of Tapping Into Wealth, believes some money is toxic. She explains that money from sources you don’t feel good about drags you down. That could be income from a hated job, a career you feel guilty about, or something like gambling that takes time away from family or goes against one’s beliefs. Soured relationships also fit, so loaned, given, or inherited money could be considered be toxic. Inheritance can be toxic? Interesting. . . .
Parents, if your adult children no longer accept you—your values, politics, or whatever else—then, by Lynch’s standards, anything you leave to them could be considered a “toxic inheritance.”
The first time I heard of older folks learning to SKI was from a so called “toxic” mom who cracked a joke. Her two estranged adult children had decided they wanted nothing to do with her or their father. So, she and her husband were SKIing around the country in an RV. I didn’t get it, so she explained:
Since then, I’ve seen all sorts of blogs and articles reporting on this endeavor. There’s even a T-shirt!
That rejected mom laughed about SKIing, but saving estranged adult children from toxic inheritance is no joke. Freeing them from the emotional burden of a “toxic” inheritance may be worthy of consideration.
Toxic money isn’t the only thing rejected parents must consider. Our lives have a way of filling up with things.
Finding our treasures a home
We might have collected things our whole lives, imagining that one day our children would cherish them as much as we do. These days, even to adult children who remain close, our treasures may be viewed as little more than clutter. To our estranged children, it’s probably downright junk! Whether necessitated by downsizing or motivated by not wanting to leave a toxic mess for others to clean up when we’re gone, it’s wise to sift, sort, and trim down possessions while we can. Here’s a shortlist to get to you started.
- Photographs and home movies. Have the sharpest ones digitized or ask who among relatives wants to preserve family history. Or, consider donating images and films of vacations to various city sites, State, and National parks to historical societies. Each society has its own criteria for fair use, so do your research. Draft and photocopy an inquiry letter, or create an email template, in which you plug specific names and addresses, then send it to organizations. One mother shared family photos of historical sites with local museums. At the very least, trim down your collection. Maybe you’re like Nanci. After 14 years of estrangement, she expressed feelings of glee when shredding old photos of her estranged son’s wedding—the last photos she has of him and her together before the years of separation began.
- Valuable items. Antiques, Persian rugs, or artwork can be sold. If the idea of running ads and fielding calls doesn’t appeal, hire an estate service to come into your home and manage sales for you. When you receive the proceeds, reward yourself. Use the money to fund an exotic vacation, a trip to the spa, a stay at a lavish hotel, or for something else you’ve been wanting to try. Or, donate to a cause that’s important to you.
- Fine China, silver, or flatware. Check with Replacements.com for possible sales. They specialize in customers wanting to complete their sets. Or, as one mother did, smash the dishes to bits! I’m not suggesting you destroy anything, but you could use the China pieces with their artistic motifs in crafts such as pretty garden art, jewelry or ceramics. In the spirit of new beginnings, maybe you end up opening an Etsy shop to sell the things you create—or offer them to existing Etsy artisans.
- Donate. Take excess belongings to a local charity or use one that offers curbside pickup at your home. Most charities list on a website what they do and don’t take. You might be surprised—I recently took some new picture frames still in their original cellophane packaging to a donation site that turned them away. Also consider listing free items on Craigslist or Nextdoor. Upcycling is in, and no-contact, porch pickups have become routine.
- Precious custom heirlooms or other special items. Diana always thought she’d pass her jewelry to her daughter. Many were commissioned for her by her late husband and are one of a kind. “The items won’t mean anything to my daughter,” says Diana. “She’d only sell them.” (Toxic treasure=toxic money.) Diana has no other family but has found an upscale jewelry restoration store that will buy them outright or sell them on consignment. “My exquisite jewelry will go to people who love it!” she says. “With the money, I’m taking one of those hiking vacations I always wanted to go on. And if there’s enough left over, I’ll get a walk-in tub installed.”
Getting serious about your estate
While the idea of SKIing is a semi-humorous way to look at the idea of leaving inheritance (and makes sense for some), for most parents, estate planning is serious business wrought with emotional landmines and distress. That’s especially true when estrangement is part of the family portrait.
Some of us have estranged adult children with mental health issues or disabilities, or we weigh their dismissal of us against our own sense of what’s right or wrong. We may think of our other adult children, the ones we have stable relationships with, and decide it would be unfair to them to reward a sibling’s bad behavior. Or, perhaps we consider how an inheritance might be viewed by an estranged adult and want to send a message with any gift or non-gift.
In Done With The Crying, end-of-life sections with a variety of scenarios and reflection questions help rejected parents think things through and make sensible decisions. The WORKBOOK: for Parents of Estranged Adult Children allows more room for expanded notes and brainstorming. In my newest book, planning for one’s demise is covered in a different but equally vital way. Beyond Done With The Crying: More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children will be available soon.
What about you?
After polishing up her toxic treasures and transforming them into a SKI trip that will bring her hiking vacation joy, Diana deserves a good soak. Will you SKI? Will you save estranged adult children from a “toxic inheritance”? Perhaps you figure an heir is an heir, regardless of behavior. Leave a comment and let other loving parents know what you’ve decided to do about estate planning. It’s an important topic.