Dear Prudence: Can I cut my brother out of my mother’s will?

Help! I Took Care of My Abusive Mother Alone. Can I Cut My Brother Out of Her Will?

Help! I Took Care of My Abusive Mother Alone. Can I Cut My Brother Out of Her Will?

Advice on manners and morals.
April 27 2015 3:18 PM

Mine, All Mine

Prudie advises a letter writer who wants to cut a brother out of their mother’s will.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Prudie advises a letter writer who wants to cut a brother out of

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Claudio Rossol/Thinkstock

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.

Q. Inheritance and Responsibility: My mother is a lifelong substance abuser, and is now close to dying. Her parents left her a lot of money, including sizable funds for my brother and me, and she has been living off the investment income from this money for decades. My father divorced her decades ago, and my brother cut all ties with the family when he turned 18, leaving me the only family or friend my mother has. I know both she and my father were cruel to my brother, but I feel that it is now his turn to take care of her. However, I don’t think he deserves to inherit anything since I am the one who loyally stayed with our mother, to the cost of friends, jobs, and fiancées. Should I hire a lawyer and have both my mother’s and my grandparents’ wills revised to reflect and account for everything I’ve had to sacrifice, then sue my brother to force him to be a man, own up to his responsibility, and do his part to take care of my mother in her last years?

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A: Your brother got out to save his life. You made your decision to devote yours—at the cost of your own independence—to your mother. It sounds like a poor decision, but do not compound that now by trying to manipulate a dying woman into changing her will. You don’t want your inheritance to be squandered on an “undue influence” suit filed by your brother. You say you stayed out your own sense of loyalty and duty. And now you want to get the whole pot of money to compensate you for your good character. Leave the will alone. From what you say, your brother, in his first 18 years, earned his share.

Q. Wedding Woes: My sister died in 2010 after a long battle with cancer. Her husband helped until the end. He pretty much had a nervous breakdown afterward, and it took him a long time to pull himself together, which involved a lot of drinking. He has been dating a woman for I believe about two years, although I have never met her. I am getting married at the end of May, and we invited him (and the invitation was just addressed to him). He sent back his RSVP and wrote the girlfriend’s name in on the RSVP. I really feel no need to ever meet her, especially on this emotional day when I will be missing my sister, but I understand he might need her for emotional support. Do you think I should just let it go and let him bring her? And why would she even want to come?

A: It sounds too bad that you have lost touch with a devoted and loving brother-in-law. Maybe all this will prompt you to keep up with him better. It’s true, people shouldn’t RSVP by adding uninvited guests, but it’s also true that when you invite people to a wedding, if they’re part of an established couple, you invite both of them. As I’ve written, I married a young widower whose wife, Robin Goldstein, died after a long battle with cancer. My husband kept in touch with Robin’s family, and when I married him the generous welcome they gave me was one of the most moving things I’ve experienced. I could only imagine how hard and final it must have been for them for my husband to remarry, but they wrote us a lovely letter expressing their happiness for the two of us. Years later, Robin’s sister, Nancy, invited my husband, me, and our daughter to Nancy’s daughter’s bat mitzvah. During the ceremony Nancy spoke about wishing her sister could have been there that day, and I cried like everyone else. (And then, that night, all of us had a great time at the party.) I understand that on your happy day the loss of your sister will be particularly acute. But surely, you can open up your heart enough to welcome your brother-in-law and his new love. She’s coming because she wants to know the people who have meant so much to him. Your brother-in-law suffered terribly over your sister’s death. Now it sounds as if he’s happy again. Wouldn’t she have wanted that?

Q. Weekend Away With a Bunch of Models: I’m a pretty confident woman who feels good in her own skin. I’m a rock climber and have a healthy, athletic body. However, I recently received an invitation to a close friend’s bachelorette party. She’s kind, smart, loyal, and down-to-earth, but she’s also a well-known model and all of her work friends are also smoking hot beautiful models, and I’ll be spending a weekend with them in a destination where the primary attire is a bathing suit. This fills me with an uncharacteristic sense of panic. Am I being ridiculous for not exactly looking forward to a weekend of feeling like I’m tagging along with a Victoria’s Secret catalog? Oh and let’s not forget all the pictures they’ll be posting for their thousands of Instagram followers to critique. The feminist in me can’t even believe I’m thinking this way. Any advice on how to get over this petty insecure feeling?

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A: Invite me! I could use a vacation, I’ll hang out in my Miraclesuit, and when you stand next to me in all the photos, you’ll feel like Kate Upton. Yes, you’re being silly. You have an admirably fit body, and you say your friend is lovely and down-to-earth about her good looks. So grab your suit, order some piña coladas, and have a great time. If you get a little sick of being in the middle of all the documentary evidence of their pulchritude, tell them to toss the selfie stick, and that you’ll be their official photographer.

Q. Re: Inheritance and Responsibility: There were many issues (both factual and moral) with what the LW was proposing doing, but one that jumped out at me was his/her suggestion that the grandparents’ wills be revised. If the grandparents are already dead, the terms of their wills cannot be revised. And getting a lawyer to try to coerce the dying mother to change her will is elder abuse.

A: Yes, this letter writer should be dissuaded from trying to find herself embroiled in a costly lawsuit stemming from her awful behavior.

Q. Should I Tell?: My now adult daughter is the result of an affair with a married man. I’ve always been single. Her dad died 13 years ago. He had remained in touch with us on occasion after moving to a different state. He said his wife forbade him to ever tell their daughters. They are now in their mid-30s, married with children. Both their (remarried) mother and paternal aunt know about my daughter’s existence. I have always been open and honest with my daughter about them. Do I tell her half sisters that she exists? At this point, my daughter, who is also married with a baby, has no interest in doing so herself. Should I leave the decision up to her even though she may never contact them? Also, these women met me when they were about 8 and 11, though I’m not sure if they’d remember me. 

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A: Your daughter is an adult with no apparent interest in her half siblings. I cannot understand your motivation for stirring this up. You aren’t seeking a relationship with your daughter’s half sisters! Since your daughter isn’t either, the easiest and most obvious thing is to do nothing. As I’ve noted many times, I find the idea of hiding the existence of people to be appalling. Everyone in your daughter’s family should not only have known about her, but known her. But that didn’t happen. Happily, your daughter is focused on her own new family, so forget about the one she doesn’t have.

Q. My Sister’s My Half Sister—but She Doesn’t Know: I’m in my 40s and have three sisters. When I was in high school, I found out that my oldest sister is actually a half sister to the rest of us—my mom was pregnant when she met my dad and he raised my oldest sister as his own. After I found out, I told my other sisters but I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want to hurt her (or make my parents mad at me). But now, everybody in the family knows—except her—and they’ve known for decades. I’m feeling guilty and I’m wondering now if I should tell her.

A: And here is a mirror image letter to the one above. It’s astounding this widely known “secret” had not reached the ears of your sister. It may be that she knows but has decided to go along with pretending not to know. Whatever the case, I don’t understand your focus on this matter. Yes, I think people are entitled to know their origins, but your sister is your sister and she is also your father’s daughter. It would be good if you stopped focusing on the fact that she’s somehow unlike the rest of you. Since you’ve known the secret for decades, you’ve had plenty of time to process what in high school must have been stunning news but what should by now seem unimportant.

Q. What Happened to Our Sex Life?: My husband and I have been married for eight years, together for 13. He’s a wonderful man. Smart, funny, caring, an amazing father and provider. Our friends and family have even said we are the poster child for what a relationship should be. I could go on about all the thing I love about him. However, I feel our sex life has died. For the first half of our relationship, we were like rabbits. But it has slowed down as the years passed, until recently I’ve realized that we are intimate maybe once every two to three months! We are both in our early-to-mid-30s, so we should be in our prime. Three days ago, trying to keep it light, I said, “Remember when we had sex, we should do that again ...” His response caught me off guard. He said that he doesn’t get excited with sex anymore and that he doesn’t feel attractive. I find him very attractive and I never thought our sex life boring. I haven’t been able to shake his comments. I love sex and feel we still have a good 30-plus years in us. I don’t want to be just roommates. I’d appreciate any advice.

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A: When you realize that for no apparent reason your sex life has dwindled to four to six times per year, yes, a conversation is in order. I can understand you can’t get out of your mind what your husband said, but this exchange was just the opening for a much longer talk and exploration. Maybe your husband is depressed, maybe he has an undiagnosed physical condition, maybe he is grappling with issues about sexual orientation, maybe he is psychologically hung up on having sex with the mother of his children. I don’t know, and you don’t either, but it’s time the two of you found out. Tell your husband you’re glad you had that exchange, but what he said is deeply concerning and you two need to find out what’s going on. Tell him you are young, in love, and you should be having a robust sex life. It’s not good for your marriage to drift into celibacy. Then have him start with a medical checkup and go from there. If he wants to effectively end your sex life, he has changed the terms of your marriage, and that is a profound thing that has to be addressed squarely.

Q. Re: Family Secrets: I highly recommend the 2012 film Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley. It is just one family’s story, but it is well done and I found it fascinating in the way it explored the theme of secrets and parentage. The stories and questions were driven by the daughter wanting to know more about her own life and parentage. I totally agree with Prudie that this isn’t a choice someone else gets to make about what the child(ren) should want to know.

A: Agree with your movie suggestion! That was a terrific movie by a talented young filmmaker.

Q. Single Dad Makes Unwanted Advances on Lesbian Teacher: I’m a 29-year-old lesbian in a happy relationship. I live in the South and work with children as a private teacher. One of my students lives with his single father, whom I like. However, he recently had a little too much to drink and made some unwarranted advances on me. The next day he apologized for his bad behavior and asked if I would still teach his son. Essentially while I am at work, I live my life as a straight, Catholic Republican to avoid any discrimination issues. Should I forgive him and move on or suggest a new teacher? I don’t want to punish this wonderful child for his dad’s bad choices. Also, the lesson took place at their home, which is now not an option for me.

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A: Your choice not to be open about being a lesbian has nothing to do with this situation. The guy made an unwanted pass, you deflected it, and he apologized. Sure, he should not have done it, but I don’t see why this one unfortunate event should preclude you from continuing to work with this boy. If you feel you can’t teach at the house anymore, then tell the father you are happy to continue helping his son, but you need to find another place at which to do it.

Q. Re: BIL’s Girlfriend Not Invited to Wedding: Do they live close enough that you can all meet before the wedding, when things are less charged?

A: That is a very good suggestion, thanks.