Inheritance, treasured objects and family issues

A short post from a Christian viewpoint. It is an additional comment on an earlier post on Families fractured by grief: differences and difficulties. 

Sometimes after the death of a loved one there are disputes regarding the will, and about what has been left to whom. This seems to be a common theme in literature – think of Dickens – but it’s not only a historical problem. (This is one sad example.)

If you are someone who is fortunate enough not to have had any issues like this, you might wonder what the fuss is all about. And it can seem rather petty when looked at from the outside, but when you’re in the midst of one of these conflicts, it can be very different. There can be such lasting hurt as a result of the terms of a loved one’s will and/or the way the family responds and/or how belongings are handled. It’s not always a question of monetary value, although it could be.

I was pondering this recently and a passage in Luke 12 came to mind – the account of the man who approached Jesus to ask him,

“Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.”

In another translation, the man asks,

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide with me the things my father left when he died.”

With a bit of imagination we can fill in the possible gaps in that story. It sounds to me rather like his complaint is justified and his brother is holding back what belongs to him. Perhaps he has been treated unfairly. Perhaps his resentment is justified. Or perhaps it isn’t.

Apparently in those days, the general rule was that an elder son received double a younger one’s portion, so there could also be resentment towards this custom or towards his father. Then again, maybe the relationship between the brothers is fracturing not only because of money or prestige, but as a symptom of the stress of their grief too. Who knows.

Whatever the case, we are told that Jesus chose not to intervene:

“What makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?”

Perhaps that means we need to take care of these things ourselves. It’s up to us and our personal maturity to manage the difficulties that arise in our relationships.

Sometimes we need to accept the way that people are, even if it isn’t the best – or if it doesn’t seem fair, as in this passage. There’s an old saying somewhere about not letting how people behave towards us change how we behave towards them. It might take a lot of grace and love to endure with patience the actions or inactions of our family members, but it’s at least a goal to aim for.

Of course this doesn’t mean staying silent if there is an actual injustice against us or someone else. Our best bet usually is approaching the matter in a spirit of reconciliation. Will a compromise be better than breaking up our relationship altogether?

I think this can apply to many of the practical issues that arise.  In general, some people just aren’t sentimental about gifts or see much value in material objects, whereas others keep every card that a loved one gives, and treasure the little knack-knacks that fill our homes. And there can be genuine hurt if we discover that an item was sold or discarded when we would have kept and valued it.

People are different and deal with their grief differently; there’s nothing we can do about that. It’s tough because issues like this can aggravate our grief. We have enough managing the loss of our loved one without any extra layers of resentment or hurt. But manage this we must.


Seals basking in the sunshine on the Llyn peninsula, off the coast of Wales. A family group that seem content to share their resources, though one seal has bagged the prime position on the front rock.



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