Parents shouldn't be able to control their children's sexual choices from beyond the grave

The latest spate of wills where mothers and fathers threaten their children with financial ruin if they make the wrong sexual choices is downright creepy

Imogen Harris
Wednesday 29 July 2015 17:24 BST
Parents said they way they were brought up themselves caused differences
Parents said they way they were brought up themselves caused differences (Getty)

How much pocket money did you get for doing jobs around the house when you were a kid? Lots of parents incentivise good behaviour, exam results and obedience through the time-honoured means of financial reward, and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, this is kids we're talking about. They can't be relied upon to go out of the house in matching shoes, much less act in their own best interests. But one parent has found a way to keep that be-good-for-cash dynamic going well into the afterlife.

A Manhattan millionaire has, according to the New York Post, left his two daughters $10 million each when they turn 35, with a few “bonuses” chucked in early if they comply with certain conditions. For example, Marlena will get $750,000 for graduating from university, as long as she also writes 100 words (or fewer) on what she intends to do with the money. She'll also get $500,000 if she marries, but only if her husband agrees to a pre-nup. Additionally, both girls will get a bonus equivalent to three times their annual salaries, whatever work they decide to do. It's hardly the labours of Hercules (and I've done much more degrading work for a lot less money – I used to sell plastic surgery over the phone for minimum wage). After all, it's his money, and they'll still receive the bulk of their fortune at 35, even if they spend the next fifteen years painted silver and standing still on street corners for loose change. It's hard to snort in indignation at all that lovely free cash.

But there's one clause that makes it creepy: if either woman decides to have kids and stays at home to look after them, they'll get 3 per cent of the value of their trust every year. Fine. But only if the child is born within the bounds of wedlock. Bastards need not apply.

This has echoes in another case that hit the headlines this week – that of Heather Ilot, who was spectacularly cut out of her mother’s will here in the UK after she eloped at the age of 17. Heather successfully argued that she should get a chunk of the estate, and ended up walking away with £164,000 after contesting her mother’s final wishes in court (those wishes, if you’re interested, were that her entire estate go to animal charities. Apparently she had no interest in or particular affiliation with animals.) Mum may not have approved of her daughter’s lifestyle, but that was seen by a UK judge as no reason to cut out the cash entirely.

Not so in the US, where it seems that Maurice Laboz’s bastard clause is being thoroughly upheld. Presumably if either woman, post-bastard child, later marries and has more children, these legally approved kids will be eligible for the cash, but not the earlier ones. It sounds like the setup to a Catherine Cookson novel; the wrong-side-of-the-blanket kid cut out of the family's fortune. Perhaps he or she will run off to sea and return ten years later, dashing, piratical and nursing a secret, burning hatred for the system that rejected them.

Attempting to use money to enforce a ‘no babies till you're married’ rule is unpleasantly patriarchal. It tips the story from 'Haha, aren't rich people weird?' into something that smacks of fathers believing they have rights over their daughters’ reproductive organs. After all, the 3 per cent bonus goes to the daughter, not the baby; it is intended to support the mother in raising her child. If the harlot gets herself knocked up without a ring on her finger, that's just her too-bad, apparently. He may not be there to ‘give you away’ to another man during a wedding ceremony, but he’ll sure as hell be a constant presence in the background, pulling the financial strings with a heavy dose of traditionalist morality.

Maurice Laboz clearly feels that his two daughters can't be trusted to make the right decisions for themselves. Daddy's still in the wings, waiting to dole out rewards for good behaviour, just as long as the women in question do what he wants, not what they decide. But then again, is the situation that dire? They're free to say stuff the money, and do what they were going to do anyway. After all, power games usually only work if both of you decide you're going to play.

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