These wills that stick in your throat

In films, the stories of inheritances that sow discord within wealthy families keep us in suspense. In real life, some wills cause great suffering, regardless of the amounts involved. A reality which, by force of circumstances, is taboo and little known.

I wrote, very recently, about these parents who disinherit their children from a first union after having found love again. No less than 30% of men and 12% of women would act in this way in Quebec⁠1.

Far be it from me to judge those who do not include the names of their descendants in their will. There can be all kinds of reasons, some excellent, others that could be described as rational, vindictive, shocking, irresponsible. The list could be long.

Regardless of what really lies behind the choices we make regarding bequests, they can have very serious consequences on a psychological level. The effects of such a decision must not be underestimated, both by the testators and by the notaries who draw up the last will and testament.

This is the message or rather the warning that a woman I will call Simone wants to convey. When his father died in 2017, he did not leave a penny to his four adult children. This decision mortgaged all members of the family.

“One of my brothers suffered from very deep depression, the other had increasingly severe behavioral problems. My sister was shocked inside and closed up like an oyster. We have all been disowned. I did not accept his betrayal. »

For Simone, it is inconceivable to have had a pleasant relationship with her father, to have taken care of him when he was ill at the end of his life, to have exchanged smiles for years and then to be ” stabbed in the back,” in her will. “Was that all wind? This is what makes me suffer every day. » The sixty-year-old feels like she has been excluded from her own family.

“Captured” by my text, the novelist and columnist Geneviève Pettersen (98.5 and Noovo) revealed⁠2 publicly that his father, who died last summer, had left him nothing. Until then, she had spoken little about it, even to those around her, despite her distress. There was shame, of course. But she also feared being seen “as a money girl,” she told me.

This is what makes the affair so invisible: how can you express your pain without attracting criticism and hurtful judgments?

Geneviève notes that her father’s choice complicates her grieving process. “That’s an understatement to say. It is extremely painful to face this immutable decision made by a parent. And it can be extremely violent to come to the conclusion that you are not even worth five cents. »

The two women are convinced: getting a little nothing would have changed everything. It could have been a fishing rod, a letter, a trinket… An inheritance is not a question of money, it’s the feeling of having been important to someone, of being part of a clan.

It is for this reason that with her siblings, Simone contested the will. To reconstitute the family, in a way. The matter was settled amicably. A friend of the deceased, who allegedly manipulated him to obtain all of his assets, according to the lawsuit, ultimately shared them.

Despite everything, Simone agrees with Quebec laws which allow one to bequeath one’s assets to the people of one’s choice, which is not the case in France. However, she questions the role of notaries. Didn’t the one who has always taken care of the affairs of her family and who changed her father’s will in favor of her friend find it curious that the four children were suddenly deleted from the text? She should, in theory.

But from the moment her client seemed capable of testing (no major alteration of mental capacities) and free of his choices, the notary had to respect his wishes, whether reasonable or not. The important thing is that the choices are thought out and understood. Of course, the process is confidential: there is no question of alerting underprivileged children.

To minimize the risk of dispute and make parents think, notary Cassandra Vermette asks a lot of questions in this type of situation. “What’s the reason behind?” Did something big happen or is it just frustration at not seeing your child for Christmas? We need to make people realize what it will create, when reading, to disinherit a child or all children. »

Unfortunately, the Chamber of Notaries and the Bar have no statistics on the proportion of contested wills or the number of cases of this type heard by the courts.

But it happens and people win “regularly”, reveals the research of Christine Morin, full professor at the faculty of law at Laval University and emeritus notary. The most common reason for dispute is “the incapacity of the testator”. But justice also hears cases where the deceased appears to have been fraudulently influenced by a person in bad faith, which is called capture.

With the proliferation of blended families with complex organizational charts, we must expect that painful disappointments and disputes will be more and more numerous.

1. Consult the article “Disinheriting your children like Johnny Hallyday”

2. Consult Geneviève Pettersen’s column


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