Sadly, a loved one has recently passed away. While sorting through their affairs, you’ve discovered their will didn’t include everyone you expected.
It’s only natural to have feelings of disappointment, betrayal and loss if you’re left out of a loved one’s will, said Maryanne Parker, founder of Manor of Manners, an etiquette consulting firm based in San Diego.
“On many occasions we were warned by many red flags or simply by the person who was creating the will,” she said. “If we were big spenders during our younger years and the family was paying for our expenses, college or helped us with a business and there is an understanding that we won’t be included in the will, we should accept it accordingly, the way it was discussed, be gracious and move on.”
If you feel you were unfairly excluded, Parker said it’s easy to dwell on this emotion, which can be truly difficult.
“Most of the time the rest of the family is not even aware of the situation and unfortunately they will be on the receiving end of our emotions,” she said. “We should carefully monitor our reaction and remember that even after the disappointment of the will, we will be living, communicating and carrying on as a family and our reaction might make or break the future relationships.”
She said it’s common for people left out of a will to jump to conclusions, which doesn’t end well when paired with hurt feelings.
“If we assume the will was disproportionately created based on malice and some kind of family conspiracy, sometimes sincere conversations with siblings and relatives might serve us very well, in terms of healing the loss, overcoming the disappointment and moving forward as a family,” she said.
Of course, she said it’s also possible in some unfortunate situations that a family might purposely exclude a loved one from the will for a variety of reasons.
“If we find it truly unfair and we certainly believe that we should be getting a part of it and something went wrong and the will was done incorrectly, then we should take legal action and move away from the family,” she said. “Sometimes the circumstances are deeper and darker just to be handled by a regular etiquette approach.”
It’s also possible that you were included in the will but a loved one was not. Parker said she actually finds this scenario more difficult than being excluded from a will yourself, as it could unknowingly create a huge division between siblings and relatives.
In this case, Parker said you need to carefully examine the situation before deciding how to proceed. If the deceased family member has already decided how to divide the estate, she said they had their reasons.
“If we decide that our brother, sister or a relative needs financial assistance — and in general help — we can make a personal decision based on our own family relationships,” she said. “This can be very difficult, because in some cases the sibling we want to help might be standing in her own way and the help might be even more detrimental than helpful — especially if they have certain questionable lifestyles.”
However, she said if the person is truly down on their luck, lending a helping hand can be the ideal scenario.
“We cannot have a simple recipe for every single situation, because every life story is different,” she said. “The bottom line is to read the room every single time we make a big decision.”
Ultimately, she said it’s also important to decide how valuable your relationships are with the family. This will help you decide if you want to work toward moving on in a positive direction or deal with grudges the rest of your life.
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