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'My sister is laughing all the way to the bank, we will never speak again': Families at war over wills

“My grandfather was pinned to a wall with a pitchfork at his throat by one of his brothers.”

A scene from The Field
A scene from The Field
Image: Avenue Pictures

WILLS – OR SOMETIMES their absence – are a bone of contention for many families.

Most of us have heard stories of families falling out over who gets what when a relative dies. It can create permanent divisions and deep wounds.

The Law Reform Commission is currently asking for submissions on Section 117 of the 1965 Succession Act. It leaves a legal window open for children who feel they haven’t been given their fair share of inheritance.

Following on from this, we asked readers to get in touch with their own experiences of problems encountered, and families divided, due to wills and inheritances.

Below is a selection of your stories. All names have been changed to protect people’s identities.

‘We will never speak again’

Almost €12,000 was taken out of my father’s bank account in the six months before he died. He was ill and unable to withdraw the money himself. We only copped that money was being taken out of his account when we saw a letter showing how much was left.

My father was not eating or sleeping the Christmas before he died, yet he ‘spent’ €4,000.

My sister moved into my father’s house two days after the funeral and locked the rest of the family out. She was painting the house before the will was out.

She had previously fallen out with my father but reconciled before his death, and became the executor of his will within the last year of his life.

Based on our experience, the law protects a person who manipulates an elderly man and takes his money, and then can hide behind the executor position.

What’s stopping any horrible child taking advantage of their parent? This has had a devastating effect on our lives.

I’m not someone who’s down on a sister because she got a house, we want to highlight what she has done.

My sister is laughing all the way to the bank. We don’t speak at all. We will never speak again. All our siblings feel the same.

- Mary 

‘My grandfather was pinned to a wall with a pitchfork at his throat’

My great-grandfather and great-grandmother lived in the house which had a bit of land attached, with their three youngest sons.

When my great grandfather died in the 1940s, he left the house and land to his eldest son: my grandfather.

shutterstock_20502308 Source: Shutterstock/D Barton

He and my grandmother moved into the house. After my great-grandmother died a year later, my grandfather asked his brothers to move out.

A huge argument over the issue became violent. My grandfather was pinned to a wall with a pitchfork at his throat by one of his brothers.

This incident has rippled through the generations and the people involved rarely spoke, except at funerals.

My own father carried this during his life and made a point of being in a position to lower his uncle’s coffin into the grave when he died (the one who held a pitchfork to his father’s throat).

I eventually inherited the land. There is still bitterness about the original will from cousins and other family members.

It was never really resolved but I sold the house. The house accidentally burnt down soon afterwards, something relatives blamed on the sale.

- Michael 

‘My mother would have crawled out of her grave’

My mother died a few years ago. My parents were legally separated and my father had been living abroad for some time.

Shortly after my mother’s death he contacted me to say that, as they never divorced, he was entitled to a share of the family home. He told me to sell the house and arrange for the proceeds to be split equally between him, me and my brother.

shutterstock_407881192 Source: Shutterstock/William Potter

The deeds to the house were solely in my mother’s name.

My mother would have crawled out of that grave rather than have him benefit from her estate.

My solicitor confirmed that my father was entitled to nothing. He wasn’t happy about this and feels my brother and I have stolen from him.

He has cut us off, both from his will (which I care nothing about) and his life. The day I lost my mother I also lost my father. All because of an inheritance.

He said some really awful things to me about myself and my mother. It really interfered with my grieving process.

He called me a gold digger and said my mother had conned the family home from him. He told me he has no children and that we would never see him again … He said he’d rather die in agony than see me again, that I disgust him and that I am his enemy.

In response, I once told him I wished he was dead instead of my mother. It was not my finest moment.

I am sad that he won’t be in my future but I’m even sadder that the man who had always been hero and my protector has become a horrible, bitter man who I’m ashamed of.

- Jane

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‘Dad’s new wife got everything’

Dad remarried after our mother died. There was only my brother and I, both married with families of our own.

Dad promised us at the time that his second marriage would not change our inheritance. He had inherited the remnants of our mother’s business. He had a few years of happiness and we accepted his new wife and enjoyed many family occasions together.

shutterstock_372823981 Source: Shutterstock/Daniel Jedzura

Unfortunately he got cancer and died last year. He changed his will one month beforehand.

When we inquired about the will we received a letter from our father’s wife’s solicitor stating that we were not mentioned in it.

We received professional advice and were told we had no case unless we discredited our dad by proving that he did not provide for us.

Our love for our dad did not die even though he dismissed us. Our only consolation is that possibly he did not quite understand what he was signing.

- James and Susie 

‘The legal bill was just under €100,000′

My wife’s family fell out over an inheritance. Her father had land and didn’t have a great relationship with his two other children, one of whom is quite wealthy.

He was of sound mind when making his will.

The majority of the inheritance was left to my wife who planned to make sure the other sibling was looked after – until she received notice of court proceedings, citing Section 117, from both.

My sister’s wealthy sibling withdrew their claim when it came to providing proof of assets.

The case continued and the legal bill was just under €100,000 when we were advised that it would be easier to make a settlement.

Section 117 is an archaic law that means any spiteful sibling can bring a case against the main beneficiary, even if they’ve no real grounds. The legal profession seem to be the main people who benefit from it, making large sums of money.

Now I ponder how I can possibly write my will and make sure my wishes are respected.

- John

This article was originally published on 2 May 2016

Read: Has your family fallen out over a will? We’d like to know

Read: What happens to your money and possessions if you die without a will

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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