Dear Family Advisor

My brother got Dad's inheritance, and I feel resentful that he's not sharing.

Last updated: Apr 27, 2011


My dad died last year and left my brother 80 percent of his assets (two houses, cars, who knows how much money). Much of this was gained in shady ways: Dad owned several bars and had lots of under-the-table business dealings. I washed my hands of all that years ago -- I didn't want to raise my children around it.

Now I'm hurt, though. We could really use the money (my husband has been out of work for close to a year), and while I know it's not my brother's responsibility to divvy it up in a fair way, I do feel resentful that he hasn't offered. He comes over here and brags about his cars and houses and the trips he's got planned, and I just want to smack him! It's come between us, which is sad because there are only the two of us now.

I've grown so bitter that I don't want anything to do with him at this point. How do I let go of all this?

You let go by letting go. Let go of what you thinks somebody owes you. Let go of the frustrations that come with that money, and let go of all the issues around your dad and his earnings. Just love your brother, and the memory of your dad, as they are. You can't change what's happened, and do you really want to base your finances on what seem to you to be ill-gotten gains? Unless you want all that comes with it, you'll have to wipe the slate clean and build your life the best way that you and your husband can do it together -- in a way you can be proud of.

I'm not saying it's fair or that your dad divvied up his finances in the best way, but we can't forget that people get to dole out their assets any way they like. They can leave them to their children, to a charity, or even to their parrot. It's their choice. But we have choices too: to live an honorable life and make different decisions than those of our parents.

Then you have to decide that bitterness and resentment aren't the family legacy you want.

Compartmentalize your dad -- and your brother. List the good and the not-so-good qualities of each, in your mind or on paper, and then choose to focus on the good. Your dad may have made some shady business deals, as you say, but it sounds as though he also had charisma and a knack for making money. So choose to see those qualities. Say to yourself, "I have brown eyes like my dad, and his knack for making money . . . only I'm going to handle it differently." You can see the good in your dad (without being overly sentimental about him) and take away something positive from his memory.

Meanwhile, try to base your relationship with your brother on something other than your past, on money, and on your dad. Yes, you and your brother share a history and some of it's not so pretty. But think about right now: Do you genuinely enjoy his company? Is he funny? Do you like the same kind of movies? Can the two of you do something together, like work on a project or a repair? Stay out of the rut of the past and begin to build a foundation on what you appreciate now about your brother.

And get busy! I mean that in the best of ways. Sometimes we spend too much time mulling over what we wished had happened instead of what we can make happen. If you're not working, get a job. Work nights and weekends if you have to -- just for a while. Take odd jobs. You and your husband create a plan. Focus on one small goal (like getting a decent car for transportation or paying off one credit card). It'll feel good to see what the two of you can do together. It's tough times for lots of folks right now, but I'm hoping that we see what we're made of (as a society), that we have a spirit of hard work and optimism. Many of us have even found that we like our new professions better than our old ones.

Focus on small, attainable goals. Break them down into little steps. You and your husband are a team. As for your brother, he may even help you out a bit more if he feels that you're not expecting something from him all the time.