Inheritance law change will empower older people

Inheritance law change will empower older people
“if an older person feels that their sons and daughters haven’t been particularly caring, I think they should be entitled to distribute their worldly goods as they see fit”, writes Mary Kenny

I don’t imagine that most of us older people will be rushing off to our solicitors to alter our wills in the wake of the proposed legal change allowing parents not to have an automatic duty to bestow their worldly goods on offspring. Most of us, I think, will still want to leave whatever we happen to have in the bank or any property owned to our heirs and successors.

After all, the poor darlings will have to go through the huge amount of clutter, clothes, letters, ornaments, endless pieces of paper, general possessions and assorted bric-a-brac when we depart. They deserve some compensation for such a wearisome (and sometimes upsetting) task.

However, I think it’s good that children should not automatically expect that their parents will leave them everything, much less consider suing the parental estate if they are dissatisfied with the will or legacy.


Most children love their parents and most parents dote on their kids: but there are cases where parents genuinely feel that their offspring have not really earned the right to inherit their estate. (There are also, no doubt, cases where children feel their parents have neglected them.)

But if an older person feels that their sons and daughters haven’t been particularly caring, I think they should be entitled to distribute their worldly goods as they see fit. And if one daughter or son has been more involved with parental or familial care, then it’s fair that they should be more rewarded.

And let’s face it – the prospect of ‘expectations’ can also encourage younger people to be nice to some ageing relative. There are many episodes – often in comic novels – where a young nephew of the P.G. Wodehouse variety is anxious to please some dotty old aunt lest she “cut him off with a shilling” – i.e. leave him only a shilling in her will. The parental threat that ‘it could all be bequeathed to the dogs’ home’ has often acted as an incentive to considerate behaviour.

I’ve known elderly people whose annual hobby was poring over their will, and adjusting it according to the positive or negative behaviour of their younger relatives.

And though it mightn’t be very noble, such incentives and deterrents may well have some effect.

I wouldn’t disinherit my offspring, to whom I have a responsibility, but revising or updating a will does make one reflect on who, in a wider context, is deserving of post-mortem gratitude.

This proposed law change empowers older people, and is an incentive to family members to show kindness and respect, and in that sense, it seems to me to conform to natural justice.


Actions and choices have consequences

Conor McPherson is my favourite contemporary Irish playwright. He has such a deep grasp of human psychology, and there is always an element of the spiritual – in the widest sense of the word, invoking the unknowing – in his writing. His drama Paula, which is going out on Wednesday nights on RTÉ (simultaneously transmitted on BBC TV) is compelling and significant.

Yes, the first episode certainly contained some sexually explicit scenes which would not be to everyone’s taste, but they were an integral part of illuminating the characters, and their flaws. Paula herself feels miserable after her reckless one-night encounter (as many women do) and we quickly have proof that James is a very shady character and a blatant liar.

The drama is fully in the Greek tradition of showing how we humans are so often the authors of our own emotional disasters, and that the actions and choices we make have consequences, which can reach beyond ourselves. It is also a thrillingly told murder story. McPherson really is superb – far better than some Irish other writers so lavishly garlanded with awards.


We no longer fear power of nature

In an absolutely tragic mishap, a female zookeeper, Rosa King, aged 33, has been mauled to death by a tiger in a Cambridgeshire zoo. There have been many tributes to this young woman who was dedicated to the big cats at Hamerton Zoo and never wanted to do any other job, at which she was experienced.

I hope the tragedy will be given widespread attention, because it is important to get across to urban people that wild animals are fierce and can be deadly. They are not dear little pussycats for kissing and hugging.


Because most of us are so urban and town-bred these days, we don’t always appreciate, respect – or fear – the power of nature. I’m sure Ms King behaved sensibly, but the internet often gives the impression that wild animals are just so cute.

As Tennyson wrote, “nature is “red in tooth and claw”. We haven’t changed its potential for ferocity.

Mary will be in conversation with the author and journalist Kevin Myers at Listowel Writers’ Week on Sunday, June 4.