Louisa Turner, writing in The Daily Mail, asks Psychologist Roy Shuttleworth his opinions on wills and family relationships.
Wills are a microcosm of family relationships. According to psychologist Roy Shuttleworth, ‘The way in which a person divides up their property speaks volumes about the hidden depths of family dynamics. For the first time, you realise just how much of a hold your father’s new wife had over him, or that you were no more special to your dad than his stepchildren. You’re trying to grieve for the parent at the same time as having some pretty negative thoughts about them. And there’s also the practical reality of your future financial security having disappeared in one fell swoop…….
The likely upshot of all this, concludes Shuttleworth, is that grief can get displaced. Grief is an essential part of letting someone go and consists of several natural stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. ‘When a person is disinherited, they often get stuck in one of these phases – usually anger.
I don’t feel envious of my sister – partly because I’m not given to jealousy and partly because I don’t think she knows about our dad’s old will – so there’s no sense of superiority on her part. But I’m not surprised that in cases like mine, where one person’s loss is their sibling’s gain, a will can stir up deep-felt rivalries. ‘Even at 80 people can experience very childlike feelings,’ says Shuttleworth. ‘If you think your sibling is getting more than you, it’s amazing how quickly you start to behave just like you did when you were five years old.’
In many families, parents leave more money to one child than another for purely pragmatic reasons – for example, because their son is a road sweeper while their daughter is a stockbroker. But in others, it’s down to simple favouritism, says Shuttleworth. ‘Sometimes there’s an unconscious tradition in the family that mothers are always closer to sons; sometimes a father simply admires one daughter more than the other. Most parents spend their lives trying to hide this, but a surprising number slip up at the time their offspring need more than ever to feel equal.’