To my brothers and sisters, I leave you... nothing. Earn it yourselves, you lazy slackers!
The wealthy baroness Alice B. Tropenhiezner has passed away recently. Now all of her family and friends have gathered for the reading of the will.
All of her children are in attendance, each expecting a large share of their dear old mother's grand fortune. But as the will is read by their executor or via a Video Will
, it turns out that all the children are Inadequate Inheritors
. She will proceed to demean them all and list all their faults. She may, however, leave each child with some sort of gift, such as leaving her son Bob the collection of photo albums, and her daughter Carol all the fine silverware, and her youngest son Dwayne with a ball of yarn she's treasured for years. Or she may decide to leave them all nothing at all.
Instead, Alice decides to leave her entire fortune and estate to somebody completely unexpected. It could be a good friend from her college years, or a servant she's trusted for years, or an unknown relative who's been living in poverty for so many years. It could be the Black Sheep
child, who married a woman other than the one she chose
, and supported himself and his family since.
It could even be a complete stranger that she only met once but feels deserves the money more than her own children. It could be incredibly degrading for the children if Alice leaves her entire fortune to her pets
The rotten children, after hearing the contents of the will, are of course very shocked and very angry for not getting nearly what they expected — especially
if Alice was the Self-Made Man
, and did not get it from her family. Expect a lot of screaming and whining. Also expect these children to become the plot's main villains, for these rotten people still believe that the money is rightfully theirs and are willing to do anything to get it back. They may plan to kill the unrightful heirs in order for the money to trickle back down to them. They may try to steal the money some other way, such as breaking into the estate and leaving with what they can like mere burglars. The more clever ones will devise a clever scheme to trick the heir into giving up his money. In more realistic works, it'll usually result in a lengthy court battle that will probably ruin family relations for a very long time, if not permanently, as said battle will often involve everyone involved sinking to their absolute lowest to get or keep what they view as their fair share.
Alternatively, Alice's act leaving the money away is the last in the series of petty tyrannies she exerted with her money, and results in the children or other heirs being tossed out on the street without a penny to their names. This is regarded as particularly vicious if Alice had inherited it herself
; the Self-Made Man
can reasonably expect the children to go out and repeat his work. Then there are the cases where Alice raised her children as Idle Rich
and now despises them for it.
She may lay down who the heir will be On One Condition
, which often leads to the characters, or the better ones among them, organizing their own split at the end.
Or Alice was a Cloud Cuckoo Lander
, and Hilarity Ensues
between the normal heirs and the named one.
Every body who gains an Unexpected Inheritance
from some aunt they hardly knew are bound to come across these people. These vengeful brats are not only used to serve as the antagonist of the honest and lucky unexpected heir, but to also serve as their foil. This plot device is often used to demonstrate that good and honest people always get the best rewards and the greedy and rotten people are always left out in the cold.
See Inadequate Inheritors
who may fall victim to this trope if they don't correct their faults. Also note that completely disinheriting direct children can be illegal in some countries, such as in France. Laws guaranteeing surviving spouses a significant share of estates are common in the U.S.
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Anime and Manga
- In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, the Ushiromiya clan gathered on an island to witness the passing of their family patriarch Kinzo. Each direct child was expecting a bounty when their old man finally passed on. Instead his will basically disowned the lot of them with one exception. Whoever could solve the riddle of the Golden Witch would inherit the gold and the leadership of the Clan. Those who couldn't...
- A commercial for Red Bull involves a will reading in which a man leaves everything to his young, busty mistress. His elderly widow has a can of the energy drink, grows wings, and flies up to Heaven to berate her deceased husband.
- When Giles died in season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he left the majority of his money to Faith much to Buffy's shock. (Though she wasn't mad about it.)
- In the Jack Chick tract, "The Slugger/The Superstar", when the athlete dies, he gives all his possessions to his gardener, who was the one to convert him to Christianity, stating that "he's the only one who will use it wisely". Among the other lessons the athlete learned was that his wealth in this world doesn't matter in the next.
- The Frantics' "Last Will and Temperament:" the willmaker leaves to each of the attendees a boot to the head; he leaves his fortune to "the people of Calgary so they can afford to move someplace decent."
- At the end of Gran Torino, Walt's family is shocked when Clint Eastwood's character leaves his prized car not to his estranged granddaughter but to the neighbor boy who originally tried to steal it. A Moment Of Awesome when they show the expression on the family members faces, and a Heartwarming Moment as he drives away. Walt also donated all his possessions, including his house, to the Catholic Church on the basis of "My wife would probably do that if I died first," which frustrated his family even more.
- Subverted in Repo! The Genetic Opera. Rotti Largo is dying of cancer and wants to give control of his company GeneCo to Shilo, if she will kill her father, instead of his own three backstabbing children. Shilo refuses it anyways, and the Largo siblings assume control by buying it outright during the epilogue.
- A 80s Disney TV movie The Richest Cat in the World, Oscar, a millionaire, leaves most of his entire fortune to his cat Leo instead to his nephew, his only surviving relative. The nephew and his wife are understandably unhappy. To be fair Leo was an intelligent talking cat who played a role in the Oscar's Rags to Riches transformation. Oscar used to be an owner of an out of the way diner, as he able to buy the land cheap. Of course, it later became prime real estate due to plans to develop the surrounding area, and two developers came in looking to buy the land. Leo made sure that Oscar didn't get swindled, and Oscar walked out with 1.5 million dollars plus the mineral rights of the land. It later turns out there was oil under the property, and that becomes the basis of Oscar's wealth.
- You Lucky Dog- A rich man dies, leaving his fortune to his dog, to the dismay of the man's greedy relatives.
- Rain Man begins this way. Tom Cruise's character's father dies, leaving him his vintage car and prizewinning rose bushes. After digging around for a while, he learns that the money went to take care of his unknown autistic brother.
- In the novel What a Carve Up!, the Winshaw family show up to receive money from their father's will. He explains in his will that none of them deserve anything. and then they start getting murdered.
- A nineteenth-century staple. Peter Featherstone in Middlemarch leaves his entire estate to a hitherto unknown illegitimate son, Joshua Rigg, disappointing his whole family but especially Fred Vincy.
- The Testament, by John Grisham, has a filthy rich businessman leave his vast fortune not to his Dysfunction Junction Inadequate Inheritor family, but to his previously unknown illegitimate daughter, a missionary in a remote area of Brazil.
- In Making Money, Mrs. Lavish leaves all her shares in the Royal Bank of Ankh Morpork to her dog. The dog, in turn, she leaves to our unlucky but cunning protagonist Moist von Lipwig, making him de facto chairman. In return for his pains in looking after a poor old lady's sweet little doggie, he gets a generous stipend - and if anything untoward should happen to the pup, he gets killed by the Guild of Assassins. He also gets the enmity of Mrs. Lavish's horrible stepchildren, who were expecting to inherit all her influence as well as her cash, and are quite peeved not to get either.
- In The Philosophical Strangler, there are a lot of these after the city's richest man dies leaving his entire fortune to one of his many great-grandchildren. The others kill him, then start in on each other. Between taxes, hiring assassins to kill rival heirs, and legal fees, the fortune the old man spent close to a century creating dissolves in a matter of months.
- In P. G. Wodehouse's Uneasy Money, Bill is left money by a total stranger and desperately runs off to try to reconcile matters with the niece of the stranger.
- In Dorothy L. Sayers's The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club, a wealthy widow leaves her fortune to her elderly brother and his grandsons, or, if he predeceases her, to her poor niece. Brother and sister are found dead on the same day, and Lord Peter Wimsey is brought in to determine who is the passed-over heir. In the end, the heirs agree to split the money and be friends.
- In the short story The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention, Lord Peter finds that an elderly misanthrope, hoping to break his family apart, willed his money to his youngest son before the deceased's burial, and to the elder son afterwards. The older brother tries to hide the will until after the funeral, but the younger son's friends find out, steal the body and have it entombed above ground, not fulfilling the condition. The younger son offers to split the estate, but things get ugly.
- In Unnatural Death, one problem is what motive the apparent murderer might have for her crime. One possibility Lord Peter investigates is that the murder victim actually has a nearer relative who will inherit instead of her grand-niece — who came to look after her in her old age and was assured she would inherit the money.
- In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, the narrator observes that Mr. Dashwood did not actually get this trope, but effectively, since the money was tied up in a manner that he could not leave it for his widow and children by his second marriage.
- In L. M. Montgomery's A Tangled Web, Aunt Becky leaves all her money to her companion, and her kin do not object because they have the decency not to care; they want the family heirlooms, which she does indeed give to family.
- In Stephen King's Sherlock Holmes short story "The Doctor's Case", abusive husband and father Lord Hull makes out a will disinheriting his long-suffering family in favor of his pet cats. He is promptly murdered, and the will disappears. After the murder is solved, Holmes, Watson and Lestrade destroy the evidence and allow the family to receive their inheritance.
- The M. R. James short story "The Tractate Middoth" (read it here) has an eccentric man who made two wills, once which favors his nephew, the other his niece (who he actually prefers)— and the latter will is encoded and hidden. The nephew gets to the niece's will first with intent to destroy it, but is killed by the old man's ghost and the niece ends up inheriting.
Live Action TV
- Archie's will from EastEnders was one of these. The character left the bulk of an estate including the pub and three million quid to Roxy.
- When Maxwell Sheffield's father died on The Nanny, his will revealed that he had a secret illegitimate daughter from a previous affair with a flamenco dancer, and that he left the bulk of his estate to the daughter out of pity for her.
- In a Touched by an Angel episode, a wealthy millionaire performed this to make sure his son wouldn't be lazy. He donated the estate to charity, and left his son a Bible in a orphanage in a nearby town.
- In an episode of The Thundermans Barb and Hank go to the will reading of her deceased rich uncle. Hank expects he will be getting everything, or at least a boat. However the uncle leaves almost everything to his young ward, and all Barb gets is a small case of jams.
- It wasn't out of spite. The ward clearly needed the support and money far more than the Thunderman's did, but Hank is still upset.
- Brazilian TV show "VocÍ Decide" (You Decide) had one episode where a wealthy man didn't want to leave his children (his son and his daughter) anything more than what was required by law. (Brazil is one country where one cannot completely disinherit one's children) He made a will bequeathing everything else to a center of medical research. It also includes a case of Loophole Abuse. When his children (even as adults) kept mooching off him, he had them sign IOU notes for any money he gave them. (According to Brazilian Law, anything a father gives his children while he's still alive is considered early inheritance).
- In a reversal, Hayden Fox of Coach is outraged when a wealthy alumni of Minnesota State leaves his entire estate to his widow rather than the school - especially since he'd been planning to build a new athletic center with all that money.
- In the opera Gianni Schicchi, the relatives of the late Buoso Donati are infuriated to find that his will assigns all his property to the church. They get Gianni Schicchi to impersonate Buoso on his deathbed so a new will can be made. The new will gives the church a token amount, Buoso's relatives more, and Gianni Schicchi the most. This leaves the relatives angry, but they can't do much except loot the house a little on their way out since it's better than nothing.
- In The Little Foxes, Horace plans to write a new will disinheriting his wife Regina. She's lucky that he dies first.
- In The Colonels Bequest, the Colonel's fortune is to be divided among everyone present at the manor during that announcement (Excluding the player) equally. When the guests start dying, the obvious implication is that someone is unhappy with that decision and wants to increase their share of the inheritance by reducing the number of people the fortune will be divided amongst. It's actually the player's best friend, who doesn't care about the money and is offended by the fact that this will proves that her grandfather didn't care for her any more than he did anyone else. By eradicating the rest of the family, she hoped to become his favorite relative by default.
- This trope is the primary starting point of the board game 1313 Dead End Drive. Pieces representing characters are all placed on the game board and divided equally between players. Before the clock strikes midnight, players must attempt to escape with one or more of their pawns with as much of Agatha's money as possible. Players are rewarded for killing other characters with various booby traps with an increased inheritance.
- This was the final act of Luna Travora's mother in Dominic Deegan, in case she had failed to get Luna to commit suicide and collect the compensation money from it.
- Housepets!: Henry Milton dies and instead of leaving his fortune to his greedy niece and nephew, Thomas and Celia, leaves it to his six pet ferrets.
- In Something Positive, Kharisma is engaged to Ollie just to get his uncle Avogadro's fortunes, since Ollie is apparently his only heir. Avogadro knows this, and the two make a deal: he'll change his will to leave everything to her, then change is back a few months later, on Thanksgiving. If she can find a way to murder him and get away with it by then, the money is hers. By amazing luck (or possibly suicide, it's ambiguous), Avogadro happens to die just before the deadline...but it turns out the will leaves the money not to Ollie or Kharisma, but Pepito, Avogadro's former Sex Slave. Ollie seems fine with this, but Kharisma is furious—and then immediately charged with murder, since all her failed attempts left a lot of evidence.
- The Aristocats: Edgar the butler believes that he's fallen into this trope when he overhears Madame Bonfamille say that her money will first go to the cats' well-being, and that Edgar will get what is left. Edgar takes this to mean that he won't get the money until the cats are dead (maybe intended, but not stated) and uses faulty math, including the Cats Have Nine Lives trope, to come to the conclusion that their lifespan (which will apparently be consecutive, or something) will be well past his own lifespan. Bonfamille, for what it's worth, acts as though she's left Edgar a windfall after he disappears at the end of the movie, and says he'd probably have stayed if he knew about the will.
- The Cleveland Show has a variant: Cleveland's ex-wife Loretta dies, and leaves everything she has to their son, Junior, with the conditions that he can't give any of the money to Cleveland or even tell him how much he inherited. Part of the reason this makes Cleveland so mad is because a good chunk of that estate was originally his—Loretta won almost everything in their divorce, despite the fact that she had cheated on Cleveland with one of his best friends. Junior, for his part, makes it clear he would share the money with Cleveland if he could (and does share it with the rest of their family).
- The plot of The Simpsons episode "Old Money".
- Catscratch is about Pet Heirs Gordon, Waffle and Mr. Blik, and the long-suffering servant who thinks he should've got the inheritance.
- Futurama: Subverted in The Honking. When Bender's Uncle Vlad died, he left a will where he said his son was lazy and never knew the value of money, giving the impression said son would get little to nothing but instead he got $100,000,000. The son asked if that was 'a lot', showing his father was right about him not knowing the value of money.
- Garfield and Friends: Jon Arbuckle's third cousin twice removed Norbert left to his business partner, who robbed him blind, "absolutely nothing".
- To Jon Arbuckle, described as expecting to be mentioned, "Hello there, Jon." Jon's excitement about becoming wealthy from Norbert's death makes it justifiable.
- Seemingly subverted with Garfield, described as having eaten Norbert out of house and home, got Norbert's "most prized possession". However, said possession, the Klopman Diamond, was known to bring its owners bad luck and it did bring Garfield bad luck, so it can be argued Norbert was expecting this to happen.
- In the Earl of Crankcase story of Rocky and Bullwinkle, the three nephews of the late Earl are this to Bullwinkle, the apparent heir.
- In an episode of American Dad!, Stan manages to turn Francine against her adoptive parents by showing her their will, which says everything goes to their birth daughter Gwen. At the end of the episode, Francine's father explains his reasoning: Gwen is a total idiot and needs all the help she can get, but Francine is intelligent, self-sufficient, and married a good man, so they're not worried about her.
- Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats: Benny saved a wealthy woman's life. Because she hated all her relatives (besides a missing niece), she left her entire estate to him. Assuming the niece doesn't reappear and nothing happens to him within 48 hours from her death.
- In Total Drama Action, Heather leaves her awards and recognitions to her mother and nothing to her siblings. See the page quote.
- Jackie Chan has stated that he is leaving his fortune to charity and his son will have to make his own money.
"If he is capable, he can make his own money. If he is not, then he will just be wasting my money."
- Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is leaving some money to his children, but most of it to charity.
"I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing."