Tuesday, June 27, 2023

My Siblings’ Inheritance Depends on Whom They Marry. Is That Wrong?

Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah is the New York Times resident Ethicist who weighs in on life’s trickiest situations and moral dilemmas sent in from readers. An anonymous reader wrote:

Around a decade ago, my mom informed each of her children that she and my stepfather put a codicil in their wills disinheriting any of their children married to someone not recognized as Jewish by her local Orthodox Rabbinate.

I believe a will is not just about money; it’s also an expression of values and love. I have strongly objected to this codicil, or more specifically, to her having informed us about it: The two are thereby using their wealth as an implicit weapon in service of their religious views.

She says I’m reading too much into it. She claims she informed us in the name of “transparency,” so we wouldn’t be surprised later, and that it’s her money to do with as she pleases, anyway — though she concedes that she also informed us in case it may influence decisions we make.

I’ve since married someone who fits her definition of a Jew, so the codicil doesn’t apply to me. Still, I have three middle-aged siblings who are all not religious and unmarried, and I think they remain so at least partially because they’re stuck, unable to both follow their hearts and avoid betraying my mother’s love — and its most powerful signifier, her will. Is she right to have the codicil? And to have told us about it? — Name Withheld

To read The Ethicist’s advice see Kwame Anthony Appiah “My Siblings’ Inheritance Depends on Whom They Marry. Is That Wrong?” New York Times, June 9, 2023.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (University of Virginia) for bringing this article to my attention.


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