In the short time I’ve been writing this blog, the “Dear Prudence” advice column on Slate has published two times. And both columns included letters from people seeking advice about death and estate planning. These letters illustrate how common it can be for an estate plan to raise difficult emotional issues beyond those caused by the death itself.
The more recent letter comes from someone seeking advice on how to deal with the hurt she felt after discovering that if her mother dies before her stepfather, her mother’s will leaves everything to her half-sister and stepfather, and nothing to her. Although it is common for parents to treat children differently in their estate plans, as “Prudie” notes, attempts at social engineering from the grave can have unexpected consequences and need to be thought through carefully.
The strange scenario described in the letter, in which the daughter’s inheritance depends on whether her mother or stepfather dies first, leads me to wonder whether the mother realizes her daughter might end up receiving nothing. Although it’s not always an option, a good way to avoid a mistake like that is to talk openly and honestly with your heirs about your plan.