Life and Money With Helaine

Dear Helaine: My brother and sister both have kids. I don’t. My mother recently changed her will so that instead of each of us getting a one-third share of her estate when she dies, my siblings receive more than me because they have children, and, she believes, they will need more money.

Here’s my question: If she asks, am I obliged to leave anything to my nieces and nephews in my will? I like them fine, but I would prefer to leave my money, including what I assume I will inherit one day from my mother, to charity. -- A Charitable Dilemma

Dear Charitable Dilemma: I am going to guess you are making this inquiry for a reason: You expect your mother is going to ask you the question, and you expect she wants you to answer that you plan to leave money to your nieces and nephews. Here’s my two cents. First, much in the way your mother decided to leave more of her money -- and it is her money -- to your siblings, you also enjoy the right to dispose of your money as you see fit, both during your lifetime and in your will. But you are under no obligation to share those plans with anyone, including nosy and possibly controlling relatives.

It’s also true that you might change your plans over time. If, say, a niece or nephew or friend helps you out as you age, you might decide to thank them in your will. If anyone in the family asks directly about your will, I’d simply say you consider it a private matter and let it go at that.

As for your mother’s will, what she did strikes me as a primo way to ferment future bad feelings between you and your siblings, and I am shocked a lawyer (if she used one) didn’t point that out. If she wants to take care of her grandchildren, better to leave them money directly and then divide the remainder fairly among her children. But I also get that telling her that might cause bad blood in the family, something it sounds like you rather sensibly and kindly want to avoid.

(To ask Helaine a question, email her at askhelaine@gmail.com.)

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