Carolyn Hax: A grandmother’s estate and a quandary

DEAR CAROLYN: My mother passed away a few months ago. She was 98 and lived a full, rich life, so this is not about grief; it is about ethical distribution of money.

She and my only sibling were on the outs for the past 25 years. I was the one called upon for doctor appointments, emergencies, etc. I was placed on all of my mother’s accounts, as well as on her condominium. She verbally instructed me that my sibling was to get nothing (sib was apprised of this many years ago), and that I distribute money to the grandchildren.

My mother had almost no relationship with my sibling’s two children, and it was her intention that by leaving some money for them they would remember her. But she left no detailed instructions.

After paying the bills, I distributed her savings among the four grandchildren. I sent a nice note with the checks to my sibling’s children saying their grandmother wanted them to have this in her memory. I heard nothing back. I eventually phoned my sibling to verify that the checks were received.

Now the condominium is going to sell, and we are talking more money than from the savings account.

Maybe I am being unfair, or overly sensitive, but honestly I have no interest in sending my sibling’s children any more money. I sense (maybe unfairly) that sending them more will still not achieve my mother’s goal in having them remember her.

– In A Quandary Here

DEAR QUANDARY: Decide how much you’d like to give your own kids, and give the other grandchildren the same ... after a self-protective consultation with an estate attorney, just in case.

Your mother instructed you to give money to the grandchildren, and hoped it would secure her memory. I see the instructions as your business, but not the hope. Your concern about the kids’ indifference might be valid, and you were indeed given leeway to decide how much to give, but I don’t think, ethically, it’s your place to decide whether these grandkids showed sufficient gratitude to meet your mother’s definition of “remember.”

They might believe that their grandmother decided the amount and therefore would be the one to (not) thank if they could. If so, then to deny these grandkids more money would be to punish them for not understanding how this estate was set up. That honors neither your mother’s wishes nor any general notion of fairness.

Yes, giving to all four grandkids equally will sting. But how long does it hurt when we err on the side of generosity? Maybe giving your sibling’s “share” to charity would be a booster for the soul.