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Ask Dave

Dysfunctional and Secretive

Patricia has a secretive family when it comes to money. She thinks her father may leave money to her sons. If they receive an inheritance, how would Patricia find out about it?

QUESTION: Patricia from My Total Money Makeover has a secretive family when it comes to money. She thinks her father may leave money to her sons. If they receive an inheritance, how would Patricia find out about it?

ANSWER: Your family is obviously dysfunctional, but the proper way is that the member of the family or the person who is identified as the executor of the estate—that means their job is to execute—their job is to execute the wishes of the will. If the will says $15 is to be left to your son or $15 million is to be left to your son, it is the executor’s job to cause that to happen. Assuming that everyone is telling the truth and has integrity and follows through on the wishes of the will, the executor would be appointed by the terms of the will and then they would carry out the terms of the will.

In the event that the executor is a moron or is a member of a toxic family with weirdness going on, then a will in most states is made public record as a part of the probate process. You’ll actually get to see a copy of the will as a part of the probate process. It would be filed. The public has access to it. It’s public record if they probate the will. There are ways to avoid having your will be public record with trusts and other things. I don’t know how complicated your father’s estate is or how good a job he’s done putting together his secretive little world, but there’s the possibility that the will would be filed at the courthouse with the probate court as a part of probating the will. Again, that’s assuming it’s done properly.

If they choose to just not do anything right just because they’re so toxic and secretive, there’s not any way you’ll find out unless you somehow, in the middle of all the toxicity, got involved and somehow got a copy of the will. Then you could take the will to the court and cause it to be enforced if you had a copy of it. The likelihood of you getting your hands on it in this scenario at any point is probably pretty low.

What I would do is just not worry about it. I think they’re weird and they’re dysfunctional and they can keep their money. That’s what I would do if I were in your shoes. I just wouldn’t worry about it. If they call after he dies and have some money for the kids, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine. But I wouldn’t sit and worry that your brother the executor ripped you off or figure out that your mother didn’t do this or whatever. I would just let them sit over there in their mess and you get on about your life. Don’t worry about it. Just build a life independent of this toxicity with no expectation. If you have zero expectation and zero worry about it, then this toxicity has no power over you.

I would just love them at a distance and have zero expectation of ever seeing anything for you or your kids. Then when he dies, don’t worry about it. If they call and have money, just be surprised. I wouldn’t snoop around. I just wouldn’t go there. Go on and live your life. Let them keep their money. They’re not generous people. I just wouldn’t involve myself. It’s very sad. Very miserly. It’s very sad, but it’s just the way it is, so don’t worry about it.

If I had a relative who asked me about stuff like that, I would just tell them. All of our wills and everything are completely disclosed to our children. They know exactly what’s going on. Any key players that are in our will, we’ve had a discussion with them and they know exactly where they are and where they aren’t. We went ahead and did a reading of the will while we were alive, and we do it every year again. That way everybody knows what’s going on, so if they want to be pissed at me, they can do it while I’m alive. They don’t have any rights to my stuff anyway. It’s my stuff—hello! You don’t have any rights to these people’s stuff. It’s their stuff, so if they want to be weird with it, just let them have it. Who gives a rip? Go on and live your life and drop it. If you’ll lower your expectations, it keeps you from getting sucked into the toxic dance.