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The Hurt and Rejection of Daisy Goodwin

The Terrible Cost of Not Talking to Your Children About Your Will

The Hurt and Rejection of Daisy Goodwin

It's every parent's responsibility to talk to their children about the legacy they might leave

When it comes to inheritance, maturity dissolves into a puddle of childish resentments,” wrote novelist Daisy Goodwin, about the emotional fallout of her mother’s will.

Daisy’s mother, Jocasta Innes was a respected writer, cook and interior designer, who made cooking on a budget trendy in the 1970’s with The Pauper’s Cookbook, and went on to make paint effects like rag-rolling the key interior design fashion of the 1980’s.

When she died, Jocasta left Daisy a small legacy, but the overwhelming bulk of her estate was divided between Daisy’s brothers and sisters. In her will, Jocasta made it clear why she was doing this - not because she loved Daisy any less, but because the others had more need of an inheritance than Daisy.

Although Daisy could see the logic of her mother’s decision, she was very deeply hurt.

When it happened I was… sideswiped, I think, is the only word. I realised that in a very primal way, I felt left out.” she wrote, “When a beloved parent dies, what is being parcelled out may look like goods and chattels, but it feels a lot like love.

Daisy wrote about her feelings in an article that was shared across the world. She was overwhelmed by the response from other people who had gone through the same emotions of hurt and rejection. As a result, she feels strongly that parents have a responsibility to talk to their children about the legacy they might leave.

The Second Awkward Conversation Every Parent Must Have with Their Child

Most parents will tell you that the most awkward and embarrassing conversation they ever had to have with their child was “The Talk” during adolescence about the birds and the bees. No parent looks forward to this onerous task, yet few will shy away from it, because by and large we take our parenting responsibilities seriously.

But the responsibility doesn't stop at adolescence. When you have made your estate plan, it’s important to tell your children what plans you have made, particularly if you have decided to benefit your children unequally. There’s no getting away from the fact that this will be an awkward conversation. You will feel uncomfortable and your child will want the ground to swallow them up. Few children feel at all comfortable with the concept of the potential financial benefit of losing their parent. But to shy away from this issue is potentially disastrous for the family as a whole.

Daisy Goodwin is far from alone in the terrible feelings of rejection and abandonment she experienced when she was confronted with the fact of her partial disinheritance in the immediate aftermath of losing her Mum. How much more compassionate would Jocasta have been if she had had the courage to have The Talk with Daisy during her lifetime? Daisy would have had time to process this revelation during her Mum’s lifetime, without the double-whammy of bereavement and disinheritance hitting her all at once.

Robert’s Story - The Potentially Destructive Consequences of Silence

From our own contested wills casebook, Robert's story strikes a chord. Robert (not his real name – confidentiality is at the heart of everything we do) came to me for advice a few short weeks after losing his father, Arthur. He had always known that he and his sister Alison were executors of Arthur’s will, and understood that they were to inherit Arthur’s estate jointly. Only when Robert came to sign the executorship papers after Arthur’s death did he learn that Arthur had changed his will leaving the bulk of his estate to his Alison.

The solicitor who changed the will had kept notes documenting Arthur’s reasons, but those reasons made no sense to Robert. Arthur had said he was favouring Alison because she had taken the lion’s share of the responsibility of caring for him in his final years. But Robert was adamant that he had shouldered more than his fair share of the caring role.

Searching for a reason that didn’t leave him with the painful thought that Arthur might have loved him less, Robert blamed Alison. She must surely have put pressure on Arthur to change his will in her favour. This filled Robert with anger and a terrible sense of injustice.

Despite my advice about the very high burden of proof he faced, and his limited prospects of proving that Arthur had been “nobbled” by Alison, Robert was determined to mount a legal challenge of Arthur’s will, on the grounds of Alison’s alleged undue influence over their father. There followed a nasty, bitter and fruitless fight between the siblings. Thousands of pounds were wasted in legal costs and the siblings were forever estranged.

If only Arthur had told Robert of his altered plans, all this could have been avoided. Robert would have been hurt and disappointed, undoubtedly. But he wouldn’t have had the shock of learning of Arthur’s changed will just when he was himself at his most vulnerable, having recently lost his dad.

Even then, Robert might still have taken the step of seeking legal advice. But the softened blow might have left him in a better frame of mind to accept advice not to embark on the destructive course of action he took. He could have avoided wasting all that money, and more importantly, his relationship with his only sibling could have survived.

You Don’t Need Your Child’s Permission

Witnessing many painful situations like Robert’s have led me to the view that for a parent to keep silent about their testamentary plans is weak and often just plain cruel.

But having the courage to tell your children your plans is not the same as seeking their approval. You don’t need your children’s approval of, or agreement to, your testamentary plans. The law is very clear about this. Every British Citizen has the fundamental right of Testamentary Freedom. It’s one of our most precious civil liberties.

The only limits on your right of Testamentary Freedom are: -

  • You must be of sound mind – i.e. you must have “testamentary capacity”;
  • You must be acting of your free will, and not be subject to coercion or pressure from someone else (your children included!)
  • You mustn’t leave someone destitute if they are financially dependent on you for their maintenance.

Telling the Kids

So, how to broach this awkward subject?

There’s no easy way to do it, so it’s best just to come out with it and state boldly what plans you have made. Your children may protest at your plans, but bear in mind they have no legal grounds for objection.

By all means reassure your children that they are equally loved, and tell them your reasons for your decision, but stand firm. This is not a request for their permission, don’t forget.

Inevitably, your children will be upset if this is news they didn’t want to hear. But you will have done them the courtesy of giving them time to digest and come to terms with this news during your lifetime. And you will have spared them the anguish of hearing this news just when they are at their most vulnerable in the wake of losing you.

For more advice and guidance about making your estate plan, feel free to contact us either via the contact form below or by phone on 0151 601 5399. We’re here to guide you through the minefield.

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