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Passed-Over Inheritance

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"To my brothers and sisters, I leave you... nothing. Earn it yourselves, you lazy slackers!"
Heather, Total Drama Action

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, 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, 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 may have 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. Sometimes the unexpected heirs are bastard children and paramours; or it could be that Bob, Carol, and Dwayne are suffering because they don't have perfect qualifications as the legitimate children of the family estate. 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. If that’s too messy, they could decide to kidnap the heir’s family member(s) and attempt to ransom them for the money, knowing he’d be willing to give up anything for his family. 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 or force the heir into legally giving up his money, like framing him for a serious crime so he’d be forced to pay them the money as restitution. 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. The honest heir will usually get the short end of the stick, because he didn’t ask for this.

Alternatively, Alice's act of 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.

Everybody 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. Sometimes, said heir might decide to give them the money and just let their greed destroy them. 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 France. Laws guaranteeing surviving spouses a significant share of estates are common in the U.S.

When done to one heir alone, is Disinherited Child. Often involves a Spiteful Will. Often used as a form of karma for someone who Only Cares About Inheritance.

Contrast Rejecting the Inheritance.


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  • 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.
  • A classic commercial for the VW Bug had the voiceover of a millionaire's will being read. Included in his bequests: "To my nephews who never learned the value of a dollar I leave ... a dollar." "To my partner whose motto was 'spend, spend, spend' I leave nothing, nothing, nothing."

    Anime & Manga 
  • Case Closed: More than one greed-motivated murder has this trope as its motivation. i.e., in a filler case a rich old man hires Kogoro to spy on his two Rich Bitch daughters and their motivations as he pretends to have a life-threatening heart attack: the one who shows more openly her love for him will inherit everything, leaving the other destitute. And then the guy is murdered... but not by the daughters but by his doctor, who lost it in rage when the Jerkass old man tried to test his family's love.
  • In The Kindaichi Case Files: Forms the background of "The Headless Samurai Case". The patriarch of a wealthy family names the son of his second wife, whom she brought from a previous marriage, to be his heir rather than the biological children. It is later revealed that the second wife's son has actually been Switched at Birth with the late patriarch's eldest son, meaning that his original named heir had actually been the legitimate successor, although it's highly unlikely that the patriarch actually knew about this when he made the decision.
  • In Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo, one story has a scheming family try to take advantage of their father's dementia to trick him into divorcing his second wife (their very young foreign stepmother) so she'll be left out of his will. It turns out he was faking his dementia and secretly made sure she got the inheritance she deserved. While the rest of his family wasn't left out of the will, the wife was left the lion's share of the inheritance, leaving the greedy relatives to split the remainder among themselves.
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, 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...

    Comic Books 
  • 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 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 Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • Huey, Dewey, and Louie are sometimes depicted as the sole heirs of Scrooge's wealth over Donald Duck and Gladstone Gander, Scrooge's other closest living relatives. Scrooge believes that between Donald's bad luck and poor business sense, he'd be more likely to squander anything that was left to him; and while Gladstone could probably make a fortune simply through his outrageous luck, the fact that Gladstone was Born Lucky has made him a Lazy Bum who looks down on honest, hard work, which offends Scrooge's Self-Made Man sensibilities.
    • Subverted in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, where Howard Rockerduck (father of Scrooge's business rival John D. Rockerduck) deliberately uses a legal loophole to allow a share of his copper mine to fall into the hands of strangers (in this case Scrooge), claiming that it'd do his Spoiled Brat of a son better to receive less inheritance. However, Scrooge ends up selling back the mine to Howard's lawyers to help his family.
  • In Mr. Pump's Legacy by Tintin creator Hergé, the plot is kicked off when the title character leaves his entire fortune to the engineers of a hi-tech aeroplane. His nephews can only inherit if the project takes more than a year from the reading of the will, so they go out of their way to attempt to sabotage and delay it.

  • The Frantics' Last Will and Temperament: the willmaker leaves each of the attendees a boot to the head; he leaves his fortune to "the people of Calgary so they can afford to move somewhere decent."
  • Subverted in this joke: A woman whose husband recently passed away is told he left everything he had to a charity institution that helps poor widows. When she asks what'll become of her, she's told that she was "everything he had."

    Film — Animated 
  • 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 include their own descendants, 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; Edgar, for whatever reason, missed that someone would have to administer the cats' trust.
  • Millionaire Dogs: Ronnie and Hannie expected to inherit their Aunt Lily's fortune but she left everything to her pets.
  • Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats: At the start of the film, 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. Of course, then it turns out she's faked her death.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Bailey's Billion$, Constance Pennington leaves everything to her dog Bailey. Her evil nephew Caspar spends the rest of the movie trying to take it from him.
  • In The Beast with Five Fingers, Francis Ingram changes his will and disinherits his only living relatives — his brother-in-law and nephew — and leaves his entire estate to his nurse Julie.
  • Casper: Carrigan expected to inherit way more than she did. Her father left his fortune to multiple charities while Carrigan got Whipstaff Manor, a condemned and haunted building. On learning this, Carrigan angrily tells her assistant that he should have forged the will as she told him to.
  • In Chairman of the Board, the main character spends an afternoon surfing with an old man. The man dies shortly after and leaves his entire fortune and corporation to the main character rather than his son.
  • When Aristide Leonides' real will comes to light in Crooked House, it reveals that Leonides has left control of the family corporation, and the vast bulk of his wealth, not to either of his sons, but instead to his granddaughter Sophia.
  • At the end of Gran Torino, Walt's family is shocked when Walt leaves his prized car not to his estranged granddaughter but to the neighbor boy who originally tried to steal it. It's pretty 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.
  • Downplayed in The Three Stooges' "If a Body Meets a Body": Moe and Larry find out that Curly might inherit $3 million from his uncle Bob O. Link. A detective reveals that Curly's uncle Bob was murdered, so the trio spends the night at the mansion until the murder is solved. After they catch the murderer, they read the will... which leaves $1,250,000 to Bob's niece Liza, while Curly's inheritance is a measly 67 cents.
  • In the 1923 silent film Little Old New York, it's assumed that Richard O'Day will leave everything to his stepson, Larry Delavan. To everyone's shock, he leaves it all to his young nephew Patrick instead.
  • In Knives Out, following the death of Harlan Thormbey, his children gather at their father's estate for the will reading, where the lawyer states that they will get nothing from him, for various reasons (earlier it was established that his daughter has successful real estate company, and her husband is having an affair; his oldest son's widow was cut off after lying and getting twice the amount of money for her daughter's tuition; and his youngest son was also fired from the publishing company in the hopes he can become an accomplished writer/publisher, instead of living off his father's work.) Instead, Harlan left his money, company, and rights to his works to his nurse and only friend, Marta, who's also the daughter of an illegal immigrant. They protest stating that they will not stand for this insult in their home, cue Oh, Crap! moment when they ask if the house is still theirs, to which the lawyer also says Marta now owns it as well.
    • In the end, this is what led to Harlan's death in the first place. His grandson, Ransom, after learning of the will, messed with the doses of his medicine so that it would seem like Marta killed him (whether accidentally or intentionally was irrelevant) and via the slayer rule, she'd lose the inheritance and it would escheat back to the family.
  • Madea's Family Reunion: It turns out that Victoria Breaux, who seems to have inherited a fortune from her late husband, actually inherited nothing; her husband left only a trust fund for their daughter and left everything else to his first wife. Victoria has been siphoning money from said trust fund to keep up her wealthy lifestyle and is pushing her daughter to marry a wealthy (and abusive) banker to maintain said lifestyle.
  • The plot of the Mexican movie, El miedo no anda en burro (Fear Doesn't Ride a Donkey) starring La India Maria, is kicked off by this. The titular Maria works as a maid for the matriarch of a wealthy family, who considers her a friend, and takes care of the lady's little dog. When the matriarch dies, her greedy relatives kick Maria out, make her take the little dog with her, and rush over to the lawyer's office to hear how much of an inheritance they are receiving. The lawyer then goes on to tell them that the matriarch considered them too selfish and greedy and will receive nothing. Her little dog will get everything and Maria will act as its regent. The greedy relatives then get the idea to try and scare Maria to death in order to get ahold of the dog, and thus the estate. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town has this premise. A wealthy uncle dies and leaves his twenty million dollars to his nephew Longfellow Deeds, who had barely any contact with him and lives in upstate New York, rather than his already-wealthy shallow socialite nephew in the city. The second nephew and his wife are shown in a brief scene early on complaining that they aren't getting their long-expected fortune, and later Deeds' Amoral Attorney turns to them to contest the will.
  • 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.
  • 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 anyway, 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 of 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 Oscar's Rags to Riches transformation. Oscar used to be an owner of an out-of-the-way diner, as he is 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.
  • In The Uncanny, Miss Malkin disinherits her spendthrift nephew, leaving him only the price of a splendid meal at a fine restaurant, as it is likely to be the last one he ever has. Instead, she leaves her fortune to her cats.
  • In What a Carve Up!, Gabriel Broughton summons his entire family to his Old, Dark House to hear the reading of his will, which informs them that none of them are receiving anything. And then they start being murdered.
  • You Lucky Dog: A rich man dies, leaving his fortune to his dog, to the dismay of the man's greedy relatives.
  • Young Frankenstein: A deleted scene features relatives and friends of the late Baron Beaufort Von Frankenstein listening to his Video Will and hoping to inherit parts of his estate. To their dismay, they only would inherit his fortune if the grandson of the Baron's disgraced son failed to fulfill the conditions set by Baron Frankenstein.

  • Horribly subverted in And Then There Were None: Vera Claythorne kills her pupil Cyril because, according to her, if he wasn't there then his uncle/her boyfriend Hugo would inherit and they'd finally be able to marry. Thing is, Hugo adored Cyril as if they were brothers or father/son, and was horrified when he realized that Vera had killed him; he dumped Vera immediately and fell into alcoholic depression, which led him to meet Judge Wargrave...
  • The Cat Who... Series:
    • In book #15 (The Cat Who Went Into the Closet), Euphonia Gage had promised to leave everything to her grandchildren, but is revealed to have changed her will and left everything to the mobile home park where she was living in Florida. It isn't said in this book if the will was nullified after it turned out the owners defrauded and killed her.
    • In book #26 (The Cat Who Talked Turkey), there's a variant in that it's only part of the inheritance that's left out. Alicia Carroll is due to inherit a great deal of other money and property from her grandmother; when Mrs. Carroll decides to leave a specific portion of her estate — her house and its contents — to the town as a museum rather than let Alicia have it, Alicia takes considerable offense.
  • Discworld:
    • 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. (It's suggested that the Assassins Guild condition, while obviously a threat, is also a form of protection: as long as there's an open contract on him, the Lavishes can't take out another one.)
    • Soul Music: One of the people Susan is brought to collect is an old man who left all his money to his cat, rather than his money-grubbing family (who, for their part, couldn't even wait for his body to cool before they started tearing up the place in search of his testament). Not because he particularly liked the cat, though; he wanted to see the poor animal flee for its life when the rest of the family came after it, since it was extremely lazy. Susan is rather baffled by the sheer nastiness of the guy.
  • Doctor Sleep: Dick Halloran's monstrous, abusive "black grandfather" (black as in evil, not skin color) knew his family only put up with his abuse and cruelty in the hopes of being put in his will, so he left his entire fortune to an orphanage. Did we mention he was also a pedophile?
  • Family Skeleton Mysteries features a past attempt at this in book 3. Treasure Hunt (real name Nelson Paul McQuaid III) left home to live his own life rather than follow what his father wanted and was cut from his father's will in retaliation; however, the man wasn't able to fully disinherit his son due to the conditions in Treasure Hunt's grandfather's will, which left McQuaid Hall and a lot of surrounding property, now part of McQuaid University, to the eldest living male descendant in each generation. Treasure Hunt may have been the black sheep of the family, but he still qualified.
  • Forest Kingdom: Variant in the first chapter of book 4 (Beyond the Blue Moon). Appleton Hartley left everything to his niece and nephew because he didn't have anyone else to leave them to, but then liquidated as much of his estate as he could and spent it all on wine and women before he died so they'd get nothing except his house (which he proceeded to haunt in an effort to drive them out). They are not amused when they find out.
  • Hannah Swensen:
    • A variant in Blueberry Muffin Murder — Connie Mac is infuriated when she learns her husband's will only leaves her half his estate, and is determined to make him change it to make her his sole heir, rather than leaving the other half to a woman she thinks he's sleeping with. The other heir turns out to be his daughter from a previous relationship, something he'd only recently found out about. It's rendered moot when Connie is murdered by someone she'd wronged.
    • Another variant in Red Velvet Cupcake Murder Barbara Donnelly's half-brother Roger tried to murder her because he felt entitled to his father's whole estate, even though Barbara's portion was much smaller than his.
  • Harry Potter has an interesting case, where it isn't just about favoritism among heirs. Sirius named Harry as his only heir, not just to give him all the money he owned in the bank and his house, but also to contribute to the war — the other possible heirs were his cousins Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange (his murderer), and his house was the first Headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix. Had he not excluded them they'd have his money and the Order's own HQ to aid Voldemort.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: In the Collegium Chronicles sub-series, Cole Pieters is using the threat of this trope to keep his (legitimate) sons under his thumb: "do what I tell you to do, or I'll leave the mine to my bastard children instead of you".
  • In The House With a Clock in Its Walls, the first book established that Jonathan inherited his money from his grandfather, with the implications that his own father and siblings were this trope; two of Strickland's books go into more depth on it:
    • Book 10, The Whistle, The Grave and The Ghost reveals that Lewis's father Charles was a hard-working man who made a good living by himself (and thus didn't need the money), while Charles and Jonathan's sisters Helen and Mattie lost out because they were bossy, nosy and had married outside their religion (the rest of the family was Catholic, but they married Baptists). Jonathan, on the other hand, inherited everything because he was like his grandfather: "fat, lazy, and too easygoing to worry about making money". (Also, he'd gone to agricultural college with the intention of becoming a farmer; Great-Grandpa Barnavelt approved of this since he'd started out as a farmer and homesteader himself before joining the army during the American Civil War and later building up a fortune in the railroad and livestock industries.)
    • Book 12, The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer reveals that Jonathan's father was also passed over because he and Great-Grandpa Barnavelt had had some kind of falling-out at one point.
  • Joe's World: In book 1, 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.
  • Laura Fleming Mysteries features a reversal in the very first book. Reverend Glass, who runs the church next door to Ellis "Paw" Burnette's house, has been after him to leave his house to the church so they can expand. He's most dismayed to find that Paw left it to his only surviving sister Maggie (and asked her to leave it to the titular character, his granddaughter, in Maggie's own will), due to the Burnettes having long since sworn to keep the house and what was left of their land in the family after having had to sell off a lot of the property during the Depression.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey:
    • In 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. There is also a subversion between the grandsons. Wimsey finds out that the younger brother was left a significantly larger chunk than the elder, and asks if the elder felt passed over. It turns out the elder not only knew but approved since his brother had a wife to support but couldn't hold a job due to his PTSD, whereas he was single and had a steady job.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Peter Straub uses this in his novel Mr. X. When Toby Kraft dies, he leaves nearly everything to his stepdaughter's son Ned (except for three shares going to charity), to the dismay of his late wife's sisters and brothers-in-law, who are obviously expecting a portion. Subverted by Kraft's stepdaughter Valerie — he had actually named her his primary heir, with the stipulation that Ned got everything meant for her if Valerie predeceased Kraft (which is what happened). As it happens, Ned chooses to split the inheritance with his aunts anyway and also gives away a portion to one of his mother's friends.
  • In Sans Famille (and its two animated adaptations), James Milligan tried to get rid of his eldest nephew Richard/Remi and even plots to murder his other nephew Arthur because his late brother left his fortune to his sons, leaving James empty-handed.
  • 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 the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Doctor's Case" by Stephen King, 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.
  • In L. M. Montgomery's A Tangled Web (1931), 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.
  • The Testament, by John Grisham, has a filthy rich businessman leaving 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.
  • The M. R. James short story "The Tractate Middoth" (read it here) has an eccentric man who made two wills, one 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 the intent to destroy it, but is killed by the old man's ghost and the niece ends up inheriting.
  • In The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, the first book of the Anthony Monday series, Alpheus Winterborn left his business and most of his money to his son Alpheus Junior when he died, and very little to his sister (he was on the outs with her, though apparently not enough to keep him from visiting from time to time during the last two years of his life) and her son. The son, Hugo Philpotts, has always felt he should have gotten more and is now determined to claim his uncle's hidden treasure to make up for it.
  • 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 the novel What a Carve Up! (see also the film version), the Winshaw family shows 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.
  • In the short story "You Can't Take It With You", the rich and miserly Uncle Basil frequently has to put up with his money-grubbing Dysfunctional Family, who often use the Title Drop at him. After he dies and is cremated, the family scrambles around his will only to find one sentence: "I did take it with me". Basil had hidden all his money in his coffin, which gets cremated with him. He did however, leave a modest sum and his house to his nephew, the White Sheep of the family.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Coach: In a reversal, Hayden Fox is outraged when a wealthy alumnus 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.
  • Comes up every now and again in Columbo as the motive to a murder. One noted case was a man who murdered his uncle for his prized million-dollar art collection. He thinks he won't be a suspect since the primary beneficiary is his aunt, but Columbo is able to guess his plot: frame his aunt for the crime so she won't inherit.
  • Dead Man's Gun: In "Next of Kin", most of Jeb McKinney's potential inheritors are displeased when his will read. However, particularly displeased is his feckless ne'er-do-well nephew Bruce, who had planned on inheriting control of Jeb's silver mine, only to discover that the only thing his uncle has left him is the eponymous Dead Man's Gun.
  • 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.
  • The George Lopez Show: In "A Funeral Beings George to His Niece", Angie's sister Claudia dies, leaving her fortune to her daughter Gloria via a trust fund, and Vic expects to be named the trustee of the money. Then, when the family watches her video will...
    Claudia: The person I chose has worked hard his whole life and knows the value of money. Will Vic Palmero please step forward?
    (Vic gets up and walks to the front)
    Claudia: Okay, now bend over and kiss George Lopez's ass, because I pick him!
  • The Magnum, P.I. episode "Of Sound Mind" had this as a central plot point. Magnum himself inherits a fortune from a former client, and also a warning that he can be expected to be murdered by a relative of the dead man who wants the money.
  • m Midsomer Murders: In "A Dying Art", Victim of the Week Brandon Monkford had cut his wife Alexandra and their two children from his will, leaving the sculpture park instead to his groundsman Tony Pitt.
  • In the Murder, She Wrote episode "Test of Wills" a rich and bitter old man leaves a will in which he gives his son and daughter-in-law his contempt, and his daughter and granddaughter his sympathy. He also says that his best friend has already squandered one fortune, so there's no point giving him another one, and his servants have embezzled enough of his money already. Everything goes to Jessica, much to her bewilderment. (He also isn't really dead, the whole thing being a warped test.)
  • The Nanny: When Maxwell Sheffield's father died, 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 happier turn of events, Concepción subsequently meets Fran, who can't bring herself to mention the money and instead welcomes her into the family and invites her to Fran and Maxwell's upcoming wedding. This act of kindness leads Concepción to willingly share her inheritance with her siblings.
  • NCIS had Tony being contacted by the estate of a wealthy uncle who had recently passed. Believing he was about to come into a fortune, he spends the entire episode trying to call back, all the while making plans to purchase an expensive sports car. Finally, in the end, it is revealed that he's getting nothing and the whole estate went to a cousin who cared for the uncle when he was sick and gave his eulogy. What Tony was being contacted over was the cousin found evidence that Tony owed the estate money for his student loans, and now wants him to pay up.
  • A sketch of the short-lived Comedy Central series Nick Swardson's Pretend Time revolved around a cat who is wheelchair-bound after receiving a massive inheritance from his late owner and nearly being killed by his enraged son.
  • In Rome, during the reading of Caesar's will, Atia and Antony are shocked that Octavian gets it all. Antony's reaction also foreshadows the conflict between him and Octavian.
  • The "Witch Trash" episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch features Sabrina and her aunts being accosted by their hillbilly relatives Racine, Boyd, and Maw Maw (her given name) who believe they were cheated out of inheriting Great Granny Spellman's Magic Book. After harassment and volleying spells between them, Sabrina almost gives them the book before Great Granny shows up (she wasn't dead; witches live such long lives they use wills to clear out space like yard sales). She reveals Zelda and Hilda got the Magic Book because Boyd and Racine specifically asked for Great Granny's fortune, which they wasted on junk and bad investments. They're told to stop blaming other people for their mistakes and work around their obstacles.
  • In an episode of The Thundermans, Barb and Hank go to the will reading of her deceased rich uncle. Hank expects she 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. (This isn't out of spite — the ward clearly needed the support and money far more than the Thundermans did, but Hank is still upset.)
  • 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 an orphanage in a nearby town.
  • The Brazilian TV show "Você 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).

  • The Billy Currington song "People Are Crazy" hint at this plot near the end.
  • The bridge of the Taylor Swift song "Anti-Hero" is about an Inheritance Murder committed by relatives who find out too late that they weren't left anything in the deceased's estate. In the music video, it's revealed that the deceased left just $0.13 to her children, with the rest (including her mansion) going to her cats.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.

  • 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 Icebound, Grandma Jordan felt that all the Jordans were greedy and selfish and would squander the family fortune. So she left it all to Jane, the distant relation that had been her caretaker for eight years.
  • In The Little Foxes, Horace plans to write a new will bequeathing all of his actual money to his daughter Alexandra, and leaving his wife Regina only with $88,000 of Union Pacific bonds "as a loan" to Oscar, Leo and Ben, knowing that they have already stolen and invested it in Chicago. She's lucky that he dies first.

    Video Games 
  • In The Colonel's 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.
  • Multiple examples in Long Live the Queen:
    • Bennett was disinherited by his family after running away from home, and because of this, he wasn't home when his mother passed away, which subsequently estranged him from his siblings Brin and Banion. He lives with his wife and children in their home country and doesn't appear in most playthroughs, but should either of his siblings die or be stripped of their titles, he can pick up their titles by virtue of there being no one else who is entitled to them (neither Brin nor Banion has an heir).
    • The former Duke of Ursul chose his younger child Julianna as heir over her older brother Ignatius; the reason for this decision is never given. This is part of why Ignatius remains in a loveless marriage with his philandering wife since he and his children have no titles to fall back on without her. If the player chooses to jail Julianna indefinitely, however, she has no choice but to give Ursul's title to Ignatius, and this will eventually prompt Ignatius to divorce his wife; it even opens up Ignatius as a potential romance option.
    • If Arisse dies during the game, her title goes to younger son Kiran rather than older son Kevan. This is possibly justified in that Kevan is already an Earl, whereas Kiran and his siblings were fathered by a commoner and thus have no titles of their own.
  • Played with in Team Fortress 2, Blutarch and Redmon Mann's father, Zepheniah Mann gave his estates, accounts, debts, and tobacco plantations to his Maid, Elizabeth, whose descendants turned it into TF industries; his company, Mann Co, to his aide Barnabus Hale; and left his "useless sons" the entirety of the land he bought in America... to share. Needless to say, they spent their entire lives fighting over it, despite said land being considered useless, and convinced themselves the entire world economy ran on gravel, which they had in abundance.

  • 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 it 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.

    Web Original 
  • This was the plot of Acquisitions Incorporated: The Last Will and Testament of James Darkmagic I. Jim Darkmagic (III), a self-centered jerkass, inherits his grandfather's entire estate, with the exception of the ancestral mausoleum and the financial investment portfolio. Everyone else either receives well wishes (the grandchildren) or is named an Inadequate Inheritor with verbal jabs of varying subtlety.
  • In RWBY, it's implied that Winter Schnee was disinherited by her father Jacques when the former joined the Atlesian military to escape her father's control, which led to Weiss becoming heir to the Schnee Dust Company. In volume 4, Jacques disinherits Weiss for disobeying him one too many times, leading to their youngest sibling Whitley becoming the sole inheritor of the SDC.
  • Thingpart: Sprinkles and Mr. Squeakers.
  • One of the Glurgier Urban Legends concerns a man going to a funeral when he sees the funeral next door has no one attending at all. He goes to the coffin, says a prayer, and signs the guestbook. A few weeks later, he finds out the dead person's inheritance was to be divided between everybody who showed up at the funeral and signed the guestbook.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Catscratch is about Pet Heirs Gordon, Waffle, and Mr. Blik, and their long-suffering servant Hovis who thinks he should've got the inheritance.
  • The Cleveland Show has a variant: Cleveland's ex-wife Loretta dies, and leaves everything she has to their son, Junior, with the condition 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 that 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).
  • 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. Until they end up getting the estate anyway and learn that the estate consists entirely of debts.
  • In Total Drama Action, Heather leaves her awards and recognitions to her mother and nothing to her siblings. See the page quote.

    Real Life 
  • 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."
  • Joan Crawford disinherited her two oldest children, Christina and Christopher, "for reasons which are well known to them." And would eventually become public once Christina wrote Mommie Dearest, retelling how much abuse Joan put on both.
  • Similar to the above situation, Bette Davis disinherited her daughter B.D. Hyman and her two children after B.D. published the tell-all book My Mother's Keeper about her. Unlike the above example, B.D. got basically no support for her claims, and her book was widely condemned as false, as opposed to the mixed reactions Christina Crawford received.
  • Bill and Melinda Gates plan to leave each of their three children $10 million each, with the rest of their $130.5 billion fortune going to multiple charities. To put that into perspective, the children will each receive less than 1 percent of the parents' total fortune.
  • Paris Hilton is rumored to have been completely disinherited by her grandfather Barron Hilton, supposedly because he saw her notoriety in the press and public eye as an embarrassment to the family name.
    • Note that this was after he'd already disinherited most of the family, changing his will to leave 97% of his $4.5 billion fortune to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation (a charity founded by and named for his father, who also founded the Hilton Hotels chain) and the remaining 3% to be divided between his children and grandchildren, when he had originally planned for them to receive everything. This, too, is supposedly due to being embarrassed about Paris' (and her sister Nicky's) behavior and perception to the public.
  • According to Anderson Cooper, son of the famously wealthy Gloria Vanderbilt, he's disinherited from the family fortune (or what's left of it), to teach him the value of making his own money.


Video Example(s):


To my children I leave 13 ct

The tag for Taylor's "Anti-Hero" music video shows a scene after her death when her will is read to her children who clearly don't care about her death and are just waiting for their share of the inheritance. It turns out Taylor left them with 13 cents.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / PassedOverInheritance

Media sources: