My in-laws demand inheritance from their mother they didn’t care for

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my 60s. My husband and I lived with his parents who have now passed on; my father-in-law 20 years ago and my mother-in-law just last year. I would like your advice regarding my husband’s elder sister and younger brother.

When my mother-in-law began requiring nursing care, my sister-in-law shouted at us, saying, “It’s a given that the eldest son’s wife should take care of his parents!” She completely pushed the responsibility of taking care of her parents onto me.

Despite both of them living nearby, they never helped with caring for their mother. Instead, they carried on enjoying their hobbies and traveling abroad.

My mother-in-law left behind a will, but she didn’t write a single word about my having taken care of her. It says that my husband’s siblings can have only a small share of her inheritance each, apparently hoping to make them agree to the way she thought her estate should be divided among her children.

Considering how little my husband’s siblings did for her, I think even the shares of her estate they are getting are more than enough. However, they’re both upset because they would receive a smaller inheritance than my husband and are demanding more.

How can I deal with these two who didn’t lift a finger to help care for their own mother but are now demanding more from her estate?

—I, Saitama Prefecture

Dear Ms. I:

As there are fewer siblings who come into an inheritance compared to decades ago, I think many may find the divvying of an estate to have become a simpler issue. However, discussions over an inheritance have often developed into conflict among the “select few.” An inheritance can create family wars.

In general, the children of the deceased evenly divide up the estate amongst themselves. However, the will of the deceased — your mother-in-law in this case — is respected as long as the document follows the official format and meets other conditions.

Nonetheless, close relatives of the deceased — such as a spouse and children — are still legally entitled to a certain share of the inheritance regardless of the will’s contents. I think that’s why your in-laws are being so adamant they get a greater share of the inheritance.

Your mother-in-law wrote in her will that your husband should receive a greater inheritance than his siblings. I know you wanted her to write something regarding your taking care of her, but I think in this case you should grin and bear it. Just be grateful she wrote a will.

As for what constitutes an adequate and legal share of the inheritance, I think consulting experts would be a wise decision. The general rule is that children of the deceased have a legal right to half of the deceased’s total estate. With three children, that means your husband and his siblings should each receive a sixth of the estate. Your husband would lose a bit financially, but I think this would be a better approach, rather than deal with a fight later.

However, this method wouldn’t really be honoring your mother-in-law’s wishes. If I were you, I would have your husband talk to his siblings and ask them, “Are you both honestly fine with ignoring our mother’s wishes to this extent?” I would feel sorry for your mother-in-law if you didn’t.

—Keiko Higuchi, critic