It has become my mission to shine light upon the paradox of privilege and the unique practical and emotional challenges that can come with a substantial inheritance. There is another legacy phenomenon within multi-generational families that has a tremendous emotional cost and that is the experience of the disinherited.
With the exception of Louisiana, every state in the U.S. allows a parent to disinherit a minor or adult child for any or no reason at all. Disinheritance of even a single member affects the entire family and can cause relational fractures that last a lifetime.
For some, the experience of being disinherited is a badge of shame. At first there is the shock and confusion of parental rejection. What often remains is a lingering sense of being fundamentally flawed that informs how one shows up in the world and within relationships.
With such a blemish to a healthy sense of value as a human being many feel lost, disconnected from other family members. Anger and resentment can rear their ugly heads damaging or severing more family relationships. Some of the disinherited know precisely the transgression that resulted in disinheritance; others feel like they've been broadsided for no apparent reason.
There are any number of reasons given for disinheritance. Some justifiable, many are not. I had dinner the other night with an attorney who was accused by a greedy step-mother for behavior never committed in a successful ploy to cut him out of his portion of any future inheritance. Unfortunately I've heard - and witnessed - similar situations long enough to know how common it is for such a thing to happen.
The important thing is for parents to fully understand and come to terms with the severity of the emotional impact disinheritance can have on a child. Some never recover, never reach anything even close to their full potential. They wander through life forever as wounded souls.
Some adult children my have committed horrible acts that resulted in disinheritance and disconnection from the family. There are other incidents where a child who is disinherited in the will of a living parent re-establishes a good relationship with that parent. The parent has every intention of providing an inheritance. However the parent dies without having changed the will. An unfortunate fact of life is that death can arrive unexpectedly. Therefore it is essential to regularly update wills and estate plans to reflect any relationship changes.
I've seen a few of the disinherited process, transform and leverage the painful experience into a golden opportunity to define, enrich and empower their self-worth from the inside out. It gives them a freedom that can never be taken from them by anyone. The act of disinheritance, in these few cases, is the pivotal moment that ultimately creates a fulfilling life of purpose and significance beyond what any financial inheritance could have provided.
I know what disinheritance feels like. My Mother and I had a falling out in the aftermath of her divorce from my Father while I was a teenager. I was written out of her will. That day never came because she died suddenly of a brain aneurysm a couple of years later.
It took some inner work for me to shift that disempowering experience into one that made a meaningful and positive difference in my life. The money was never the source of pain; it was the rejection and disconnection between a mother and daughter that tore me apart for many years.
That experience, though, gave me great gifts even though I had to crawl on my knees to receive. The lessons and insights were ultimately worth the time spent knocked to the proverbial ground. Its one of the things that makes me understand, with certainty, that life happens for you - not to you.
Today, I understand that parents are human and have their own personal issues. They do what they think is right, even if woefully misguided. I feel my heart my Mother and I would have reconciled one day. I've chosen to hold that image, and the empowering lessons I learned, as my inheritance from her. And for that I am truly grateful.
If you've been disinherited, or know someone who has, I invite you to read the insights provided by Mary Beth Caschetta in the New York Times article "What Wasn't Passed On". She's transformed her personal story as a disinherited young adult into a mission to educate parents about the American culture of inheritance laws and the phenomenon of disinheritance.
Valery helps individuals and families transcend their unique emotional and practical challenges the come with wealth - the paradox of privilege - to help them define their worth from the inside out, reconnect with what they value most and invest their time, energy and financial resources in alignment with their personal and family mission so that they can leave a meaningful legacy that will last for generations to come. The life you lead is the legacy you leave.
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