Search This Blog

Stirring the plot: Inheritance & Entitlement

In Seville, Spain a vibrant and active 85-year-old duchess, who owns way more stuff than any human needs to, defied her six children and married a 60-year-old man. She had to sign over part of her vast estate to her little darlings to shut them up.

Most of us don’t have to worry about estates, entitlements, and trust funds, but I've seen this a lot with elderly parents and their kids (and second marriages). No matter the financial status, children will fight over ugly knick-knacks, and dad’s scruffy robe, and dog-chewed slippers. I’ve heard stories of children who have stolen things out of their sibling's car after a funeral because they wanted some inexpensive tchotchke that had sentimental value.

The death of a spouse or a divorce and remarriage raises questions of who gets the family jewels. This is juicy conflict for a writer. The thematic question has no easy, or clear-cut, answers. It will invoke emotionally charged responses in your readers.

Who gets to decide what is left to whom? Legally the answers are pretty clear: whatever Dick has legal ownership of can be disposed of in any way he likes in his will as long as what he owns isn’t tied up in a trust or must legally to go his spouse. Emotionally, it is a potential field of land mines. If there is no will, it can become a cat fight.

Do his children have a valid claim on Dick’s stuff? Is he obligated to leave them his stuff? Should he leave it to his second, third, or fourth wife? Why should Dick leave his entire album collection to a floozy with a tin ear instead of his darling children who grew up listening to, and loving, those albums? What if they already have all the songs loaded on their IPODs and will probably sell the albums at a flea market?

If there are multiple sets of children, should they all share equally or should Dick leave everything to his favorite charity to avoid conflict?

What if Duchess Jane does not like her children, or a specific child, does that change the level of obligation?

If Sally runs up outrageous debt before she dies, are the children responsible for paying it back? Legally, usually, no. Whatever Sally owed is deducted from what she owned. The rest of her creditors are out of luck. But that might not keep an unscrupulous fellow from coming after her children for it. Her children will be upset if they expected something (particularly a windfall) and find they are to receive nothing.

Kids tend to have an outrageous sense of entitlement to their parents stuff, especially when it is lots of money and half of a small country. If Dick’s children hand him a list of everything they think they should have on the night before his wedding to his new love, there is going to be perpetual conflict.

What if Sally asks her children to go around the house and put Post-Its on all the stuff they want when she dies? There will be intense emotional conflict. They may not want to think of their mother dying. They may not want to admit that they’ve always coveted the ceramic dog that reminds them of evenings spent watching Lassie. Fights are likely to ensue.

Should Jane’s children feel entitled to her stuff? Whatever the parents have worked to amass is surely theirs to do with as they please. We tell our children, "What we have worked for is ours. What you work for is yours." Do those rules change when the parents own half of the Hamptons?

What if Dick dies with no children? Who gets his stuff then? Who should he leave it to? Should it go to nieces and nephews? Siblings he didn’t like and has not spoken to in fifty years? If he does not write a will, it might.

Who has to take care of all the details when Dick dies? His ultra-responsible son or his flighty daughter? The grandchild he never spent time with or the sixth in a long string of wives? There will be conflict either way.

You can reveal a lot about your characters in terms of how they view and respond to this type of situation.

You can show change if Dick refuses to consider such a thing as what he might want when his father passes away. Then, when the event occurs, he finds he does care what happens with his father's tobacco pipe or vintage Rolls Royce. The opposite could be true. He always thought it mattered whether he got the car that took up space in a garage but no longer ran then when his father dies, he couldn't care less about it.

These thematic questions stir up controversy. There are equal arguments for each side. They cause massive conflict at any story level. They have been argued in every genre imaginable and are often the motive in a mystery.

For more on how to motivate your characters based on personality type, check out:

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict in paperback and E-book.

Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook in paperback and E-book.

No comments:

Post a Comment