Sister Trying to Steal the Family Inheritance

Reader’s Question

I start with this quote: “A [sibling] with a Personality Disorder may intimidate an elderly parent for money or manipulate a legal situation to eliminate siblings from an inheritance.” (From your article on personality disorders in relationships.)

Question: We have exactly this situation; how do we cope?

Throughout her married life, our sister flew to her mother: “He doesn’t give me enough! I can’t feed my babies!” — or some such special-purpose pleading after cash, which was readily dispensed. Now, the mother’s estate is in our sister’s sights; the will is to be (probably already has been) altered. Out goes the equal split, in comes the massive rip-off.

This is hardly likely to be unique (it’s like something out of a bad novel), and may have already been addressed ‘in here’ — but if so I haven’t been able to find it on your site.

This problem started recently; at the end of March my brother and I admitted our father to permanent residential care for his advancing dementia. He is now happily ensconced, make no mistake, and far better for it, but on that day our mother screeched “You’re just doing this to cut me off from his money!”

Following this we (brother and I) are now in the process of being diddled out of our inheritance by our sister in collusion with our frail and failing mother. I found the above quote from Dr Carver yesterday, and see that it covers our situation well, but I had previously worked out how these two women could be so mean; they blame us for some ‘infraction,’ then set out to punish us. My mother has said as much: “I blame [our father] for this.” “I blame [my brother] for that.” “I blame [you] for the other.”

The problem is not so much the money — although it is not inconsequential — but the shock and dishonour of having this actually happening to us. We think the situation is grotesque (to say the very least), and the behaviour of our sister utterly larcenous and that of the manipulated mother monstrous.

The problem overshadows all else; my brother and I are neither welcome nor desired, and it leaves our mother almost totally alone (our sister lives 300km away.) The family is a smoking ruin, and the inheritance theft will dominate all else down through all our remaining years.

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Repeat: How do we cope?

Psychologist’s Reply

You have articulately described a situation that is very common. Individuals who operate like your sister are totally self-justifying and are more concerned with their goal (the will, money, estate, etc.) than keeping the family together. Her strategy will go something like this:

  • Quickly move on your mother, assuring your already-suspicious mother that she is there to protect her from you and your brother who are going to use “the law” and other intelligent means to place them both on the street.
  • She will amplify your mother’s sense of helplessness and emphasize that the only way your mother can be protected is to appoint her guardian or power of attorney as after all, the mother-daughter bond is stronger than any other bond in the universe.
  • She will interpret all moves by other family members as attempts to threaten or obtain what rightfully belongs to your mother (under your sister’s supervision of course).
  • She will likely start a process of removing valuables, accounts, important papers, etc. under the excuse of keeping them in a safe place.
  • While her behavior is astounding, unethical, and immoral to other family members, she will actually feel a sense of entitlement about the situation. You’ll find that guilt, family honor, sensitivity, etc. are useless against her plans.

How do we cope in such situations:

  • Recognize that the original family is already gone. Your sister has elected to sacrifice the original family for her selfish goals. From this point, you and your brother may be the new, reorganized family.
  • Recognize that your sister’s behavior is more for her than against you. While her schemes will damage you, she’s not actually out to harm you — only to get what she desparately wants. While you and your brother may have stable lives and lifestyles, your sister will justify her behavior, feeling this situation is her only chance to better her lifestyle — even at the sacrifice of the family.
  • If you decide to protest or fight, remember that it’s business and law, not a sibling situation. Some courts have a concept of “undue influence” regarding wills and estates. “Undue Influence” implies that original documents (the old will) have been altered due to the criminal manipulation or conning behavior of someone else. Consultation with an attorney will clarify your rights in your area. You may have several legal options including an assessment of your mother to determine her competency to alter her husband’s original will.
  • Your mother is alone and frightened. Her husband has been removed and placed in a nursing home. Her daughter is intentionally amplifying her fears with evil suggestions and misinterpretations. You and your brother have been painted as doing something wrong and threatening to her. As difficult as it might be, I would suggest that you put the situation and the maternal accusations aside and try to provide some support for your mother. A schedule of routine contacts to check her status would be very helpful to her. Sadly, once your sister has achieved her goals — she’ll likely disappear in true personality disorder fashion.
  • It may also be helpful for you and your brother to have a counseling counsultation as well as a possible legal consultation. Selecting the best emotional and social strategy in this situation will determine the future structure of the family — a collection of individual members, brothers separated from mom and sister, or the remaining family without a sister. Some disaster repair will be necessary, fixing what can be fixed.

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