Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: “Last Wishes Gone Astray”

This week, R. Eric Thomas and Jenée Desmond-Harris discuss a Prudie letter: “Last Wishes Gone Astray

R. Eric Thomas: Jenée! Hello! I am so glad to be chatting with you again. Welcome back to the Prudieverse. How are you doing?

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi! I’m delighted to be back. After a few months of obsessing about every detail of my baby’s life and my experience as a new mom, it will be nice to get back to spending some time pondering other people’s issues. I also feel like I’m coming back with a whole new set of opinions, especially about parent-child stuff.

Eric: I was curious about whether your perspective might change or shift on some questions. Now you can do Prudie and Care and Feeding and heal the world. I know you were very busy, but were there aspects of the Dear Prudence process that you missed or found yourself looking forward to?

Jenée: Definitely crowdsourcing responses once a week. I like the feeling of going from “I have no idea what to tell this person” to “I think I have it figured out.” What do you think you’ll miss?

Eric: I’m definitely going to miss that feeling of discovery after really sitting with someone else’s question and then coming upon a reply. I’m also going to miss the perspective that it gave me about life in general. I really appreciate people’s willingness to ask for help, and I’m reminded that we’re all navigating hard things. I also think I’ll miss the life lessons. For instance, I have learned a lot about how well-intentioned inheritance plans can leave messy trails. It seems to come up every week. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you about this question.

Jenée: Hard things like … what do you do when you very much want your father’s $50k worth of cars? Even though he definitely didn’t want you to have them? I loved the way you asked the LW to sort out whether this was a financially or emotionally-rooted grievance.

Eric: That’s my biggest take away from inheritance problems—so often we are trying to throw money at emotional issues, or throw emotions at money issues.

Jenée: So, so true!

Eric: I was struck by how quickly the LW was able to start ticking off financial data. And I get it—numbers give us a way to determine equity. But I do think some things need to be sorted out first. What did you make of the issue here?

Jenée: Somewhat less gently and empathetically, I was just like … your dad said what he said!

And Alvin actually DOES have the means to take care of the cars! The time to negotiate with your dad about estate planning was when he was still alive. But since he’s not, it should make you happy that his wishes are being honored. A person who loves working on cars is getting the cars, and let us not forget … you are getting a WHOLE HOUSE, eventually. Please accept it and be happy.

Eric: Right! I understand the impetus, but holding a Model-T in storage for a 14-year-old who could potentially express interest is a tough sell for me.

Jenée: And a person’s clearly stated last wishes should not really be up for debate. It would be one thing if Alvin had nowhere to put the cars, and the LW was being asked to build a shed. But that is not what’s happening.

Eric: Right. There’s a plan. And it’s a fine plan, the bad ex notwithstanding. I’m glad that the mother has been clear and firm here. So often instructions become suggestions and everyone becomes a committee member, and that’s messy.

Jenée: I also took issue with the statement that the dad caused a wedge in the family.
There would be no wedge if LW accepted what he said he wanted. I think what’s underlying this question is that it’s really heartbreaking to lose a parent, and it is in some ways easier to create and fight a battle over Model-Ts than to sit with that loss and really feel it

Eric: How well put! This has the stuff of great tiny drama, but it’s important for the LW to not let substitute issues get in the way of her healing or her family’s unity. Also, we all should remember that inheritance is not owed. Maybe this is controversial opinion? I don’t know. I’ve never inherited anything. Except anxiety.

Jenée: I’m SO with you. It drives me nuts when people feel entitled to an inheritance, or have the nerve to get upset when, again, they’re getting a whole house! Many people get nothing at all.

Eric: True! It’s also interesting how the LW noted that a house is a hassle (it is) but didn’t really have a problem with the hassle of upkeep on a 100-year-old car. Everything is a hassle! Divest from possessions!

Jenée: Ha! So yeah, the short answer, as you said, is “Yes, just move on.” The deeper answer is “Deal with what you are actually upset about” (with a side of “appreciate your wealth and privilege!”).

Eric: True, true, and true. I wish them all the best. And good luck to young Alvin, owner of the oldest cars in the world.

Jenée: The owner of the oldest cars in the world and a somewhat bitter, hopefully less-bitter-as-time-goes-an relative.

Well, Eric, thank you for all you did while I was gone (I think your last columns will publish Thursday and Saturday as I settle in?) and for passing the baton back to me.

Eric: It was an honor and a pleasure, truly. I appreciate the opportunity, and I’m looking forward slipping quietly back into the comments section after this Saturday’s column goes up.

Jenée: So how are you going to fill the Prudie-shaped hole in your life?

Eric: I still write two other newsletters a week so it’s not going to be that chill. But I’ll miss doling out advice!

Jenée: Readers, if you find yourself going through Eric withdrawal you can check out those out newsletters—on pop culture here and humor here. And I’ll be answering letters again next week!