Sibling rivalry is as old as the hills and fratricidal wars are a part of mythology of every society. Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus and the Mahabharata and Ramayana closer to home, are stories that we are all familiar with. Despite social norms, family bonds and even established legal procedures defining rules of inheritance, in several instances, somehow or the other money becomes a fractious wedge between brothers and sisters.
At a tea party very recently, I heard shocking stories of family discord that had the entire family split down the middle, taking sides and causing bitterness between cousins and unpleasantness that extended to the larger social circle where friends had to decide which sibling to ‘support’ or side with.
In one family a father left a large sum of money to each of his daughters in his will. Despite the fact that it was more than substantial and his daughters were themselves grandmothers when he came to pass on, the money left to the daughters was a mere fraction of what he left his son. But then again, this was only natural because he and his son were a Hindu undivided family in the truest sense – with a common business and a common house – living in perfect harmony.
It was also a well known fact that the daughters were not expected to look after their parents (it was against their social custom) , nor did they do so as the brother cared for his father in his last illness making sure that no stone was left unturned during the treatment and care. Yet, after the will was read out, the daughters put a spoke in the wheel challenging the father’s decision to not give them an equal share! Despite the fact that the son still had his widowed mother to look after and the daughters were better off financially than their brother, they insisted that the new amendment entitled them to an equal share and they were only demanding what was theirs by right.
There was another similar instance of sisters taking their brother to court for a share of their father’s property with the brother having no option but to fight it out. Now I have absolutely no idea of the Act nor the amendment but a discussion yesterday led me to believe that this was possible – a legal action against the brother for a share in their ancestral property despite a will to the contrary.
I was honestly quite horrified by these stories simply because it meant-
1. That wills were in effect meaningless
2. Sisters are more than ready to march their brothers off to court.
Whatever happened to the old standards of decency? Daughters are supposed to be more concerned about their parents but honestly in the Indian scenario, how many of them actually look after their aged parents? More often than not, despite daughters’ best intentions to do so, the care of parents is left to the son. And if the son fulfills his filial obligations, isn’t it only fair that he get the bulk of the property?
But more than the money, what is surprising is the sanctimonious defence both sets of sisters have taken: “We don’t really care about the money but if it is our right to inherit equally, why should we not avail of it? After all we aren’t we children of our parents too?”
Once again, I agree that this is an irrefutable fact, children are children and have every right to expect an equal share but surely they should also consider the fact that they have more than enough and that the brother in all likelihood will have to sell his assets to make good their claim to their share of the property.
And if you think that this only happens between brother and sister, I have heard of it happening between sisters too, where one sister who had migrated officially and been abroad for over fifty years, not only accepted her share of the family property but insisted that the sister who had actually stayed with the widowed mother and looked after her till the end, and who was less well off than her sibling abroad, sell the flat or at least her half of the flat so that she could give the share of the family property to the sister living abroad.
How can one avoid such a situation? And can such a situation be avoided? Surely years of family togetherness has some value? And lastly, if wills are meaningless, why make them at all?
As a mother of two thirty-year old daughters and a grandmother of a nineteen week old grandson, Sunita Rajwade has been there and done that. A hands on mom, she has seen two girls grow successfully through babyhood, toddler hood, adolescence and adulthood; solving their maths problems and contributing to their angst of growing up with a mom “who doesn’t understand”. But now as a grandmother, she’s being appreciated for her “wisdom” and “understanding” and would like to share her experiences of this wonderful journey from motherhood to grand-motherhood.