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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

"Greedy Point" and Entitlement

I was having a discussion the other day with my wife and we were talking about how deaths sometimes bring out the worst in people. Sometimes people who had little to do with the deceased while they were alive will show up and try to get 'their helping' of the spoils of the estate.  Sometimes someone who was there only at the end--and not all along--gets the lion's share  In the 'fog' of activity or distraction that follows, items that were meant for a specific survivor sometimes have a way of disappearing. But, sometimes it's not even that subtle. Often the attempted money or material grab will happen right out in the open as the dubiously entitled survivor will have convinced themselves rightly or wrongly that they should be the one to get the money and/or items in question. Obviously, when a will leaves any wiggle room on matters of the estate, the 'entitled' survivor will likely exploit it as he or she feels a right to the spoil(s) in question. However, the 'entitled' survivor doesn't always necessarily defer to the will even when the will is very clear in what I've seen. Often they will claim that the the deceased 'meant to' included him or her, or that the deceased 'was not of sound mind' when the will was made or altered. Even if he or she accepts the legality of the will, the 'entitled' survivor will find a way to try to pressure the executor and/or the recipient of of the spoil(s) in question into effectively giving up some or all of their rights. For example, say in a person's older years, a supposed friend or companion, 'befriends' or 'helps out' the deceased in his or her later years. The 'friend' may have convinced themselves that they were they are entitled to the spoils, even regardless of indications to the contrary--in writing or understood. Depending on the circumstance(s), he or she might have a legitimate point, but then again, laws aren't necessarily based on what is 'fair'. However, the person in question might be hitting what I call a 'greedy point'. In other words, their covetousness has overwhelmed them. In other words, they so want a particular part (or all) of the spoils, that they have convinced themselves somehow they are entitled. It is at that point they (may) lose:

  • Moral clarity
  • The high ground
  • The better judgment
  • Respect for the process
  • Respect for rights of others in the process
  • Respect for the intent of the deceased.

I write this as food for thought.  When you are in the process of dealing the estate of a loved one and someone in his/her sphere that you think may have hit that 'greedy point', it is best to consider for the situation at large and your own mental health, the following (regardless of what the will says or how the law comes down):
  • Was it your loved one's clear and "of sound mind" intent to leave the 'entitled' one the money or items in question?  
  • Did the person in question add benefit to your loved one's life?
  • Was the person in question's interaction with your loved one colored by the best interest of your loved one or by what he or she could or would get from them upon their passing?  Can you answer this question objectively and/or definitively?
  • If you were in the person in question, how would you feel?  In other words, check your own motives.  Perhaps, your outlook could be colored by your own feelings about that person.
  • Is the point of contention that big of a deal?  In other words, is what is being fought over that significant monetarily or sentimentally?
  • Will conceding on the given point lead to other problems?   Would it be a seen as a sign of weakness by the 'entitled' party?   Would it lead to larger problems with the family at large.
In my own life, my dad had as a benefit a government policy that paid out upon his death.   When going through his paperwork, I stumbled upon this.  Anyway, I thought it might pay out to his kids, so I called and checked on it.  I was told that it had been paid out already.  As his executor and power of attorney, I'm confident that I would have known if it had paid out to family.  It would have paid out to me or all my siblings, but as I hadn't heard anything from my siblings, I was almost positive it paid out to someone outside the family.  This person had not been with him for years and didn't have his best interests in mind.  I was upset.  It wasn't much in the scheme of things--maybe 10K.  I didn't eagerly await my dad's passing to get any 'goodies'.  That being said, I thought it was screwed up who probably ended up getting it.  So, I was bordering a 'greedy point'.   Ultimately, I had to let it go as a) being mad about it wasn't going to change it and b) my dad in a settlement with this person had conceded to letting them be the beneficiary.  But, I can see where people get all bent out of shape.  Part of me was feeling 'entitled'.  After all, I had been there for him for most of his life, helping him run the house after him and my mom divorced when I was a teen and at many points in my adulthood.

While I have centered this post on the risk of greed and entitlement with regard to a love one's estate, it can clearly spill over into other areas.

At one point in my life I was got a settlement.  I wasn't 100% sure that I was entitled to it.  Now we are talking in the hundreds, but still..  Anyway, I wasn't 100% sure on it.  In getting the point of determining if I was entitled, I felt a pull to answer questions in a way that would maximize my chances of getting it or getting the full amount.   Looking back, I probably was entitled to it, but I could feel the 'greedy point' kicking in.

I think another common 'greedy point' is with taxes.  There is a push or incentive to maximize claims of deductions.  It would be easy 'justify' claiming a deduction you aren't necessarily or sure if you are entitled to if there is a little wiggle room on the tax statute in question.  So, I like countless other taxpayers, have to check myself on it.  We have to make sure not too 'excited' when we think there may be a possibility to claim a deduction.  To ensure that I am not over-claiming, when in doubt, I do all the research I can on it until I get a definitive answer, good or bad.  The IRS may not catch all incorrect deduction claims and perhaps they'd miss out on a claim that I had convinced myself that I could take or was entitled to, but for me, it is more important to be accurate with them.  Sure I could justify in my mind doing otherwise by pointing at the inherent unfairness of the tax system.  In the end, even if I had a legitimate point, whom would end up being hurt the most?  Not the IRS and not others.  

A few parting thoughs...

  • Do not let your self-interests get in the way of your better judgment.  While your conscience can be misguided or oversensitive, it can also be a powerful tool on your behalf.   Listen to it.
  • While you need to protect your interests, don't assume someone who seems to be opposed to your interests is just being greedy or selfish or trying to screw you over.   Their POV may have SOME validity to it.  Try to learn/understand their perspective.  You may find that they have legitimate points and it is time to find a middle ground.   If not, then at least you know better what you are up against and whether it is driven by actual greed or an inaccurate perspective.
  • While sometimes you have to fight on principle for your interests and to ensure other parties know you are serious about protecting your interest, often times fights devolve into who gets the worthless trinket or something on that level.   In other words, choose your battles.

Hopefully, this post helps give food for thought for those involved in (or who will be involved in) a current or future fight over an estate, food for thought into whether their motives or pure and food for thought into other perspectives.

That's all for now.


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