My daughter died of a drug overdose and her two children were raised by other grandparents. I’m leaving the house for my son’s children. Is this fair?

Quentin Forrell

“Our will states that everything else will be divided equally, giving half to our son and the other half to our deceased daughter’s three children”

Dear Quentin,

My husband recently passed away and I’m sorting through financial papers because I’m in my 80s and you never know. We made a will years ago, the usual kind – everything goes to the surviving partner.

When the remaining partner dies, our will stipulates that the house we pay for will go to a grandson – our son’s only child – and everything else will be divided equally so that our son gets half, and our deceased daughter’s three children Get the other half. At the time we wrote this will, we were not close to our daughter’s children. Her in-laws raised her two youngest children. They want to save them from the chaos of the family. My daughter and their son got divorced and we were sidelined. I don’t blame the grandparents – they did a great job raising their kids, but they were very protective.

Here’s some background: Our daughter married someone who is now in prison. We did everything we could to help her – paying for vocational training, buying a house for her and our eldest grandson, and giving her a car.

We later found out that our daughter and grandson (20 at the time) lived on the street. Our money was used for drugs. At that point, we cut them off. She died of an overdose. Since then, we have developed a relationship with that grandson. He has gone through drug treatment and is now clean and sober and we hope all goes well.

Our son’s child will inherit our house and eventually his parents too. His idea was that he could go to college with the money at home—if he could go to college, he could go to Harvard for four years. But I don’t want a bad relationship between cousins.

Our daughter’s two youngest will also inherit from the grandparents who raised them. Our daughter’s eldest will get money from us, but it’s a far cry from what everyone else gets. Also, his money will be handed out by our son because our grandson hasn’t shown that he can handle money.

I have a hard time deciding what is fair. I can’t change what our daughter has done to her life and her children. I also don’t want to take anything from our son and his family who live a great life. What do you think?


dear grandmother,

There is a big difference between being fair and being fair, and sometimes you have to balance your head with your heart. I recently advised a grandmother to create a 529 plan for her only grandson, despite the kid asking, “Who’s Nana?”

Your situation is slightly different. You are closer to your son’s child. Your son-in-law’s parents did what they thought was right by giving your daughter’s young children as stable a growth environment as possible.

You didn’t say if you lived far away from your late daughter’s kids, but I think weeks turned into months, months turned into years, and you didn’t have the opportunity to have the kind of relationship you wanted with them. You say the eldest of these kids is back on track but still struggling to maintain a financially responsible lifestyle.

You leave your home to your son’s son for two reasons: The first is that you are closest to that grandson. Maybe he’s like another kid to you, especially considering your efforts to help your late daughter. We need to strike a balance between these feelings and the potential consequences: whether your actions will lead to disagreements among beneficiaries, leave some grandchildren with less legacy than others, will it cause them to feel “inadequate” and send out negatives information?

Another reason you seem to want to keep your favorite grandson at home: You think he’s most likely to go to college, and you think he can make more progress professionally than your other grandchildren. I’m not too happy with this logic. I understand that you don’t want your grandchildren to squander their inheritance, but you can also set up a trust for them with details on how the money will be used.

At the end of the day, I don’t think your daughter’s three children should be punished for their mother’s mistakes. Discuss your plight with a trust and estate lawyer and outline your concerns. I understand that your relationship with all four grandchildren is different. Given that your son’s son will also inherit from his parents, I would advocate a quadratic system for your family. A compromise, albeit unequal, is to leave half of your family to your son’s son and the rest to your daughter’s three children.

They may or may not use it for a college education, but it can provide a down payment on their own house.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group where we find answers to life’s toughest money questions. Readers write to me with all kinds of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me more about what you’d like to know, or participate in the latest Moneyist column.

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– Quentin Forrell


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