When I was in elementary school, and then high school, and then college, I was never able to use the dictionary or the encyclopedia as reference books. I would always get sidetracked by a picture or an article that looked interesting . . . and three hours later I’d still be working my way toward my intended destination with absolutely no ETA.
Technology has only made this worse. Especially when I find an intriguing article and then, at the bottom of that article, are links to what appear to be other intriguing articles. This is particularly true with those sites that are offering advice (or condemnation) by the mentors or the masses. If it isn’t Dear Prudie or Dear Abby, it’s Slate or Am I the *******, all of which occasionally offer up some of the most absurd situations you could possibly imagine. For example . . .
A gentleman wrote in seeking validation for a decision he had made—a decision that built an insurmountable wall between him and his daughter. It seems his first wife—the mother of the aforementioned daughter—had died, leaving him a sizeable inheritance that included a lovely beach house which had belonged to her family and what seemed to be a ton of cash. A few years later he found a young lady in her twenties (he is in his forties) and they eventually married, as his family looked on suspiciously.
Fast forward a year. One whole year. And he decided to leave everything to his new wife. Everything. The beach house . . . the cash . . . everything will be hers at his death, leaving nothing for the daughter or the grandson he and his deceased wife shared. And, he didn’t see a reason to give this information to his now disinherited child—until she mentioned the beach house and how many wonderful childhood memories were made there and how much she looked forward to her grandchildren doing the same someday . . . at which point she asked him outright if the beach house would still be hers at his death.
You can’t tell me somebody didn’t put a bug in her ear.
To his credit, her father replied honestly. Everything is going to wife number two with whom he will probably also have children given her age. He didn’t see a problem with that, either because he didn’t want to or because he was completely oblivious to the devastating consequences of his actions.
Cue the fireworks.
Granted, they didn’t explode immediately, mainly because his child was too shocked to react or respond. But it didn’t take long for her to make her feelings known. Although she was polite—in the beginning—she certainly didn’t mince words and by the time the conversation ended he knew exactly how she felt, which was angry and betrayed. And he still didn’t reconsider his decision. He did, however, post his predicament on one of those websites that asks a total stranger for advice . . . except in his case he was seeking approval for the course of action he had chosen.
He didn’t get it.
The columnist started by assuring this gentleman he was well within his rights to leave his worldly possessions to whomever he chose. And then he let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he was a terrible person for taking what his wife—the mother of his daughter—had left to him, trusting that their child would eventually receive that inheritance, and leave it to a woman he’d been married to for a year. It was fine, even expected, that he should provide for her in some manner, but to leave her everything that his first wife had brought into their marriage was a travesty and extremely disrespectful of the relationship they’d had.
Believe it or not, this situation arises more often than you might think among families who are dealing with loss. I’ve always said Death and alcohol bring out the best or the worst in people, depending upon who they really are, and I should probably add money to that list. And who gets to hear the stories? The funeral director in the arrangement conference. And the secretaries in the office. And anyone else who will make eye contact and halfway listen. If someone didn’t go ransack the house before Death arrived, then they went right before the arrangement conference (or even during, when they’re fairly certain everyone else is otherwise occupied), or they change the locks so they have complete control over who else enters the property. And it isn’t much better when they learn they’ve been left out of the will in favor of a spouse that isn’t also their parent. Families that might otherwise have enjoyed each other’s company at Christmas are now mortal enemies because somebody died and somebody else got greedy.
If anyone is expecting this to wrap up with some handy dandy tips on how to navigate financial mess at death, I highly recommend not holding your breath. All I can say is please consider the children left behind when a newly acquired spouse enters the picture, and please don’t shove your family aside over money and material possessions. In the overall scheme of things, what you may gain is never worth the cost.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.