Dear Dr. Yael,
I am a widow just turned 70 and I am, thank G-d, well. I live on my own and I have five children, all married with families of their own. When my husband was alive we had wills where we left everything to each other, and in the event that we both died at the same time we left everything in equal measures to our five children. My husband is gone three years and I have put off making a new will, but now I feel that I really should with life being so insecure. My problem is I don’t really know how to divide my estate. It is not very large, but I do have my own home in a well-to-do neighborhood and a certain amount of savings and I still work part time.
One of my daughters is married to a very wealthy man and they live a luxurious life. Another daughter and her husband have a large family and with Yeshiva tuition, they struggle to make ends meet. Then there are my three sons. One of my sons, the youngest of my children, is very devoted to me. He calls me almost daily, and if I ever need anything he is the one I ask. He is married to a wonderful woman. The other two sons are very nice but don’t go out of their way to see me or call. Whenever I call, they are happy to hear from me. Their wives are nice but nothing special towards me. How terrible would it be if I didn’t leave everything in equal shares? I don’t mean to cut anyone out but just not leave everything equally? I want to give more money to my daughter who needs it and my son who is very devoted to me. I will leave something for everyone, but feel that these two children should get more. Is this a mistake?
A Conflicted Widow
Dear Conflicted Widow,
Firstly, I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your husband. Although you state that it has been three years, I’m sure it is still difficult for you. As a mother, you want your children to get along and be close to each other after you leave this world. You do not want your will to cause any strife or ill feelings. Because of this, I would advise you to try to give the extra money to those children who need it or whom you feel deserve it while you are alive. You can do so discreetly, so that your other children do not feel jealous. However, it will create tension in your family if your will is not divided equally.
Do you want to leave your children with anger towards you forever? Do you want them to spar and fight between each other? When parents don’t divide their money equally, children feel resentful. It is not a healthy way to leave your children with jealousy and anger. If you truly feel that one child does the most for you, I would ask you to possibly meet with each couple individually and just express your needs to them while you are alive. Perhaps the other children are not as thoughtful and want to do for you, but do not think of what to do on their own. All your children sound caring, but perhaps some are less demonstrative. Give your children a chance to change while you are alive. Do not hold in your feelings and resentment.
I would advise you to make sure not to compare them to each other when you talk with them; rather, maybe you can think of ways that you can spend more quality time with them. Each couple can bring you more joy, but please ask in a loving way without sounding critical. By voicing your needs while you are alive you will help them live with less guilt after 120 years. Even if you feel that you are leaning on your children, they likely want to be good to you. Perhaps you do not like to ask for anything from your other children because you feel uncomfortable, but if you think of it from a different perspective (that you will help form a better relationship with them and possibly help them feel better about their relationship with you after 120 years), then it will be easier for you to do so.
If your other children are simply “too busy” or do not see the value in helping you and you really want to ensure you give more to some of your children, then it would be wise to do so while you are alive and well and not leave any negative feelings once you are not here anymore. I wish you hatzlocha in this situation!