Dear Virginia, Ten years after I was diagnosed with HIV, my parents cut me out of their will, leaving everything to my sister and her children. They reasoned that I would die early and have no children and wanted their possessions to remain in the family. I was devastated and remain so. It's not the money, but their possessions would give me a sense of place, a belonging, and a remembrance of my early life. I feel these things should be divided between my sister and me, regardless of how long I have left to live or whether I have children or not. What should I do? Yours sincerely, Adrian
In dark old Victorian times, parents who were offended by their children would throw them into the snow and "cut them off without a penny". They would tell them "never to darken their doors again". And since it's such a common theme, at some level your parents can't be unaware of the connotations of leaving you nothing, however much they've rationalised the cruel move. Unless they're complete hicks, they've read enough old books and seen enough old films to recognise this scenario.
And how have they dealt with it? They haven't reassured you that they love you to pieces. And although you say they're rational people, how have they actually rationalised their actions? Just because you're gay and HIV positive doesn't mean to say you'll die early – as you have proved. Indeed, who knows, you may well find yourself with children around you at some point – even if they're not your own.
I hate to say this, but are you absolutely sure that your parents have really accepted your sexuality or your illness? Are you sure they're not punishing you for your sexual orientation or for your having contracted this wretched disease? At some level I think they are. At some level I think you feel it. And why, might I ask, did your sister collude with this monstrously unfair decision? After all, it would have been very easy for your parents to divide the estate, but ask if you would write a will at the same time as theirs, leaving all your money and possessions to your nephews and nieces. And if they didn't trust you, they could have put half their estate into a trust for you to enjoy during their lifetime, which again would eventually go to your sister's children. But no. They've cut you out, as if you don't exist.
I am all for life being conducted on rational grounds – emotion can cloud judgment and in the end result in more misery than joy. But in this case, I'm surprised how angry I feel on your behalf. And that anger doesn't really belong to me. After all, I've never met you. No, the anger comes because I'm picking up on the anger in the situation that no one else appears to acknowledge – your parents' anger with your situation, and your anger at their reaction.
Explain to them that you feel punished and excluded and tell them that this feeling persists despite all their protestations. Actions, tell them, speak louder than words. Suggest they change their wills on the lines I've outlined, and explain that then you'll start to feel healed, a member of a family, rather than some bad apple of whom they're ashamed, who needs to be swept under the carpet so that there'll be no trace of him in the future.
Don't suffer in silence
Has Adrian told his parents and sister how much their decision has hurt him? If he has stayed silent and allowed it to eat away at him inside then he must bring it into the open and let them know how he feels. In the end, possessions are just objects, but what powerful objects when our emotions are involved. One way forward would be for Adrian to swallow his feelings and ask for some mementos for his lifetime to be passed on to the children when he dies. But I wonder if he is really mourning the loss of the familiar things of his childhood, or can he just not bear to think that these people love their possessions more than they love him. It's a truism that we can pick our friends but not our families. I hope Adrian has lots of the former to keep him from dwelling on the inadequacies of the latter.
They're rejecting you
Reading between the lines, Adrian is gay and therefore childless and also his parents are still alive to be able to negotiate this. In addition, his parents are both his birth parents.
For many of us step and adopted children, the surviving parents favour their own birth children. In my own case, I am gay (and childless) and much older than my siblings. These proved an easy justification for my virtual exclusion from the last family will (my stepmother's). She and her children would profess the highest ethical and moral values, including lack of homophobia. However, their vindictive selfishness and greed have overcome these and by her will she has rejected me from my father's (her late husband's) family.
Although friends say that I should forget this rejection, it is implicit in our society to value family, siblings and inheritance.
Adrian may be able to negotiate with his parents while they are alive. After their death, just accept the fact that this destroyed your family.
In my own case, my total estate could have been returned into and enhance the family's wealth – but in no way would I now contemplate this, unless to bequeath a nominal £1 or the proverbial shilling to each of my much despised step-family. My father would have been appalled at this turn of events.
Name and address supplied
It happened to me
I would urge Adrian to discuss his distress with his parents and his sister. My sister "took in"� my mother (in many ways) when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She then caused a rift and I did not see my mother until she was on her deathbed. Subsequently, it transpired that my mother had re-written her will and I was not even mentioned. It was not the financial loss that hurt but the fact that I never received any personal items from my family home. I have no childhood or family photographs and according to my mother's last will and testament I never existed.
Name and address supplied
Next week's dilemma
I feel so down about everything. Every time I go out, my friends moan about how children today can't read, how the world is going to end if we don't do something to stop global warming, how we're too dependent on the internet, how Iran has a nuclear weapon, the population is going to explode... And it's not just what people tell me: I can see for myself the world is going to the dogs – I recently discovered that my niece doesn't even know who Shakespeare is! And now there are going to be all these strikes. Sometimes I can't sleep for worrying. The only thing that helps to ease my anxiety is alcohol, and now they tell me that's bad for me! Sometimes I wish I hadn't been born into this world. Yours sincerely, Gemma
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