Two old siblings fight over money

Inheritance can be tricky; many of us dream about receiving a large inheritance from a long-lost dead relative (with no strings attached, of course). Inheritance becomes a contentious issue within families, conflicts arise, relationships become strained (or completely severed). When a family member passes away, the way in which their assets are distributed can lead to feelings of envy, anger, or disheartenment. Feelings of perceived favoritism may arise, anger over the “unfairness” of splitting assets, etc. Disputes are exacerbated by underlying family dynamics and unresolved tensions; all of this adds further fuel to the fire that is the grief and turmoil the family is already going through, having lost a loved one. Communication is key!

In reality, getting an inheritance in real life does come with strings attached: wars over inheritance can tear families apart. Celebrities like Michael Jackson, Prince, and many others, have left behind bawling, brawling, family members fighting countless battles in the courtroom.

But does the average joe, who doesn’t have as much money as say, Michael Jackson, really have to worry about what he or she is going to pass on to their kids?

As it turns out: yes.

Inheritance isn’t just about the money you’ll pass on to your family members. Receiving an inheritance is loaded with emotional significance: sentimental items, heirlooms, family paraphernalia – all have a connection to the past. This connection could either make or break the members of your family members when you pass away. This is more than just about money; inheritance can become a symbol of how loved a child feels.

Emotions can run high; especially when one sibling fears receiving nothing left behind by his/her parents, or when when one sibling learns that he or she is about to inherit less than a brother or sister.

Communication is the key to dealing with this problem: when tensions are running high among family members, having a calm discussion with your children before setting out your Will can really soothe over any hurt feelings. Your children should be able to understand the reasons as to why they are getting what they’re getting when you pass away. The reasons concerning their inheritance should be clearly outlined. Essentially, if you, as the father, or the mother, are writing up your Last Will, you’ll want to sit everyone down and have an open and honest conversation as to why your children are inheriting what they are, and the reasons behind it. Why is one sibling getting more? Why is one sibling getting less? Communicating with your loved ones about the reasons behind their inheritance before you pass away, before you get sick, and while you’re clear of mind, keeps the lines of communication open.

For some, communication with their parents is not so easy, particularly when one parent appears to be narcissistic. There are parents who will make decisions regarding their children’s inheritance and have the attitude of “It’s my money, and I can do whatever I want.” The lack of a need to justify their decisions as to why they’re doing what they’re doing can cause a rift among their children. That appears to be the case with one person who recently wrote to an online column (Dear Amy) asking for advice about how to deal with her estranged brother:

“Dear Amy: My brother and I are both in our 70s. We’ve only spoken once in the last three years. After our father passed, our mother sold their home. My father had previously told my brother that when they sold the house, he wanted to give a certain amount of money to each of us. Our mother did not honor our father’s wishes, but did give us each a smaller amount. Years later she deposited a good sum of money into his account but asked him not to tell me. (I wouldn’t have cared at all.) Mom later called the bank and asked for the money back. My brother was angry, but approved it, and then stopped speaking to her. My mother moved closer to me and I was her sole caretaker for seven years until she moved into assisted living. She spent the rest of her money paying for her care. My brother thinks I got more money from her than he did, which is not true.”

With the mother now gone, greed, as the author implies, is the problem:

“He [my brother] also expected me to give him money from the sale of my home because I had gotten more than the asking price. I had sent him $1,000. I also sent him over $5,000 when he needed emergency dental care. I wondered why he never returned my calls, until I found out from his estranged wife that he had expected to receive a lot more money from me from the sale of my house.”

There are certain details that appear to be omitted, but that is the gist of the letter. The author wonders what she can do to smooth things over with her brother.

The ball, as Amy replied, is now in the brother’s court.

You can read more about this story, here.

Although the author doesn’t mention it, things could have been smoothed out if their late mother had simply sat down with her two children and explained the reasons as to why she was spending their inheritance the way she was. A (difficult) conversation about the whole thing could have saved years of estrangement between the two siblings after she passed away.

It may have even kept the relationship between the two siblings intact.

Take this as a lesson when you’re planning our the inheritance for your children or loved ones: communicate!

man holding dollar bills

Many people view inheritance as a gold ticket: it’s the key to paying off debt, travelling the word, and living a life of luxury. Many Millennials have been suffering through a prolonged period of economic hardship since the great recession in 2008. The supposed “wealth transfer” might (hopefully) mitigate some of that financial blowback. An inheritance can change the person’s life for the better, if the money is blown on stuff they don’t need. Even a small amount of money is life changing in this day and age. If you’re lucky enough to inherit a small fortune, don’t blow that money. Besides doing the responsible thing and paying off your debts and mortgage, you can use it to have fun AND spread it around to your community.

Many people have used their inheritances to create positive and lasting impacts, honoring the legacy of their benefactors. When people inherit money, jewellery, or anything of value, there are those who choose to invest in their education or grandchildren, which releases a lot of the financial burden for their own children. While many people are relying on the possibility of an inheritance these days, only a few lucky ones may have the money to direct their efforts towards philanthropic efforts. This would include charitable foundations, funding scholarships, supporting medical research, etc. The latter is what we’re going to focus on today.

Let’s delve into the ways inheritance can be used as a widespread force for good:


Social Changes

Humanitarian Aid


Guardian of the Sydney Harbour

Building a Legacy of Education

Leaving a legacy is important for many people. Regardless of an inheritance or not, many people do want to give back to their community. Many people choose to leave money for schools and hospitals. Some people have given back by donating to their local school system, either because they really believe in the importance of education, or they had a good experience at their former alma mater, or both. The people who inherit and choose to do good with their money aren’t just leaving behind a legacy in the field of education, they’re changing other aspects of society as well:

Catalyzing Social Change

Many wealthy people often leave money to charities or foundations in the form of philanthropy. There are a variety of causes to support and charities always need money. Philanthropy can ease the burden and leave a legacy behind for your heirs. There are some billionaires, for instance, who have promised to donate their entire fortunes when they pass away.

Humanitarian Aid Efforts

An inheritance can also bolster humanitarian aid efforts in other parts of the world. An inheritance can go to worthwhile causes, such as Doctors without Borders, provide support for organizations around the world, and much more.

Empowering Entrepreneurship and Innovation

There are always startups looking for seed money: startups offer new innovative ways to offer products that can change people’s lives for the better. Supporting these startups can lead to supporting something brand new and innovative.

Guardian of the Sydney Harbour

This brings us to Australian native Andy Orr: the 55 year-old former school teacher inherited enough money to leave his job and dedicate his time to something he truly passionate about: sweeping up the Sydney Harbour. Every morning, Orr leaves his house with his trusty hat, bucket, and gloves in tow. He spends each morning picking out the plastic litter that sweeps across the harbour. He came up with the idea while strolling along the harbour with his wife a decade ago. He began cleaning up the plastic debris in his spare time.

The inheritance he received in 2020 has allowed him to quit his job and pick up trash full-time.

The most common piece of garbage that he often finds? Plastic straws. Reflecting on the activity, Orr says that picking up litter full-time is a “meditative” process. He finds it calming.

What happens when the 55 year-old’s knees give away? Orr says he’ll continue his work from a boat.

You might argue that Orr is only making a small impact on the world; but he’s doing what he loves and his inheritance has freed him of any financial restraints. He’s doing good in the world. Will you do good in the world as well? Inherit and do good!

Inheritance can make a meaningful difference in the world.

A fistful of money

Updated: June 2024

Inheritance: everyone dreams of inheriting oodles of money from a rich aunt or uncle. But what happens when you actually get the money? It might not be everything you wish for.

Marlene Engelhorn is exactly in that position: she inherited a whopping $36.6 million dollar (in Canadian dollars) from her rich grandmother. She should be set for life, right?

Instead, the wealthy heiress is quite unhappy with the princely sum of money.

Inheriting the money was bittersweet for Engelhorn; it’s enough to live on for the rest of her life, but it left the heiress with a nagging feeling in the back of her mind. Engelhorn felt conflicted: “I am only wealthy because I was born in a rich family. And I think in a democratic society of the 21st century, birth should not be the one thing that determines whether or not you’re gonna get to lead a very good life,” Engelhorn was reported as saying.

She’s not alone: many wealthy Austrians have made their fortunes in finance, real estate, manufacturing, and the (burgeoning) tech field. The rich often reside in cities like Vienna and Salzburg. Austria, a country known for it’s profound musical legacy, being the birthplace of classical music legends like Mozart, Haydn, and Strauss, is a cultural hub for many who visitors.

Engelhorn began a campaign for heavier taxes on the wealthy in Austria; this included campaigning for an inheritance tax. Her pleas to the Austrian government fell on deaf ears; the tax inheritance laws that Engelhorn was hoping for didn’t come to fruition. She has therefore decided to spearhead a grass-roots campaign for heavier taxes to be levied against the wealthy in Austria.

Partnering with the Foresight Institute in Austria, Engelhorn is looking to have a committee of Austrian residents tackle economy inequality by redistributing the €25 million ($36.6 million Cdn) she is generously giving the committee to play with.

How does this work?

Engelhorn and the Foresight Institute invited 10,000 Austrian residents over the age of 16. The number will be whittled down to a lucky 50 residents, who will be randomly selected to form the “Good Council.” These members will decide (over a period of six weekends) as to how the money will be spent.

Engelhorn also continues to work with charitable groups, like Millionaires for Humanity and Tax Me Now.

She continues to lament that “the Austrian system shouldn’t allow her to accumulate so much wealth.” But without any inheritances taxes in sight, Engelhorn is left to her own devices to distribute her own wealth.

Until that changes, Engelhorn plans to give away most of her inheritance.

You can read more, here.

Dog bounding up in the air

Pet care: our furbabys are spoiled. It’s not uncommon for people to spoil their furbabys; Instagram and other social media is littered with videos and pictures of people playing with their beloved Fidos and felines, pampering them, feeding them, and just enjoying their presence. (In fact, pets sometimes get receive better care than other humans.)

Is it any surprise that people want their pets to be taken care of when they die?

There are some people who love their dogs, cat (and by extension, birds and rabbits) more than anything in the world, and have a closer relationship with them over their human counterparts (we’ll get to some real-life examples later.) It’s an increasingly popular trend: leaving behind money and assets for the care of their non-human loved ones. It’s not so far fetched when you consider how much people pamper their dogs and cats already – in fact, it’s a testament to the deep bond people share with their furry companions.

The History of Pet Inheritances

Reasons for this increasing trend

Legal Considerations


History of Pet Inheritances

The concept of leaving money or assets to pets isn’t entirely new. In fact, it dates back centuries. Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula, for instance, left behind a substantial inheritance for his beloved horse, Incitatus. His horse was gifted with a complete with a marble stable, fine fodder, and a staff of servants (no word on how long the horse lived after his passing.) Then, there are the myriad of modern day stories: Leona Helmsley, for instance. And the late Karl Lagerfeld has a cat worth over $3 million dollars. The trend has gained momentum in recent years, with many pet owners treating their pets better than their human family members.

Reasons for the Trend

Several factors contribute to the rising popularity of leaving inheritances to pets:

1. Pets are like family (and are treated as such): Pets are often cherished as family members rather than animals (at least for dogs and cats, anyway.) This gives pets a status deserving of consideration in planning for their estate.

2. Concern for Their Well-being: Leaving a financial legacy to their pets ensures that they receive the care and attention they deserve, even in their owner’s absence.

3. No Heirs: People who are either childless or don’t have family members, people keep dogs or cats for company. They become as close to their owners as family. Leaving behind something to take care of their pets is a natural choice.

4. The Growth of Pet-Related Services: The pet industry has exploded in recent years, from pet spas, gourmet pet food, to pet therapists and luxury accommodations. With these services readily available, leaving an inheritance to pets becomes more feasible and practical. It really shows how much people love their pets and would do anything to take care of them.

While the idea of leaving inheritances to pets may be heartwarming, there are legal and practical aspects of these types of arrangements. In many provinces/territories, pets are legally regarded as property rather than as beneficiaries, which can make direct bequests challenging. To be fair, how would you directly pass on wealth to a pet? You would need someone else to look after the pet in question for you. Instead of inserting your wishes into a Will, you might want to look into a Pet Will, which allows you to comprehensively provide details for pet care after your passing.

A Pet Will allows you to legally set aside funds specifically for their pets’ care and designate a trustee responsible for managing the assets on behalf of the pets. Caregivers ensure that the pets receive the necessary care, and detailed instructions cover everything from food to medicine. It also includes any special instructions the pets might require for care.

Challenges and Controversies

Leaving inheritances to a dog or a cat is well-intentioned, but this process has it’s obvious challenges: some family members may dispute these arrangements in court, arguing that the funds should be allocated for human beneficiaries (this was the case for Leona Helmsley), rather than to pet care. There is also the sobering concern people have for their pets: will caregivers maintain care for the pets in question, or just run off with the money they were provided with for the pet’s care? Make sure ALL of your loved ones are taken care, with the right estate planning!