Inheritance and danger dowry: a piece of fiction written by Rani Jhala
What I am suggesting will upset wives, anger husbands and infuriate parents. It may even shake the very foundation of marriage. But it is time to amend laws in order to protect the assets of the ones who built them.
I am talking about ‘inheritances’ and the transfer of these. History is being made every day with daughters-in-law demanding payment for producing the grandchildren of the family and by sons-in-law who are forcing their wives into litigation so that they can grab a share of their in-law’s wealth.
I am Kiran Shah, billionaire shipping magnate and entrepreneur. I am ranked as the fifth richest man in the Asian Pacific region, and I began my career dismantling large ships, but I earned my wealth by building aircrafts.
From being forced to watch my wife put in 14 hour days looking after the administrative details, while nursing a child, I was finally in a position to see her enjoy a life of luxury. And I took my precious family from a modest two bedroom unit, to a seven storey waterfront home. No one remembers the struggles we had in the past, yet all speak of our new unparalleled wealth.
But wealth serves two purposes in life. It is either a passport to heaven or an invitation to hell. How we make our money and how we spend it, determines its purpose. Wealth also attracts two types of people. Those who are genuinely happy for you and those who feel they have a right to it. And the easiest way to grab a share, is by marriage.
Last week had my wife and I separated, she would have had the right to half of our entire estate because we built it together. Even though she was just looking after our kids, she was contributing to our progress and prosperity. Whatever we owned, was jointly earned.
My children married under different circumstances. They were already managing directors in the company and earning a substantial salary. When they became twenty-one we gave them their independence. When they married we gave them the keys to a furnished home.
Ours was a happy home, a successful venture and a prosperous dynasty. Like every such platform we too faced the next phase of success – the inevitable discord within the family over money. The year after we saw the last of our children married, we lost our eldest son in a car crash. Still recovering from the tragedy, we were given a greater shock by his wife, whom we had treated as a daughter. She claimed that my son had willed the ‘expected share’ of my property to her and her daughters. Fearing that she would be unable to defend their children’s rights without her husband, she was filing for separation of assets.
Not to be outdone, my second daughter-in-law filed for divorce. Along with it she filed a criminal case against my wife, citing abuse, misuse of trust and withholding of her dowry, the usual charges most daughters-in-law now use on the commencement of divorces.
Dowry? Every item she owned was given to her by us. She was an orphan child brought up by her maternal uncle who had made it clear that financially he was not in a position to do anything for his niece. My son was so in love with her that we were more than happy to bear the entire cost of the wedding and clothing. Little did we know that our generosity would plant the first seeds of greed and would one day teach her to love it more than loving our son.
Seeing the daughters-in-law trying to grab their share, our son-in-law too armed himself with legal documents demanding his wife’s share. And what did his wife do? She killed the daughter that we had so lovingly brought up.
After they left, my wife and I debated the right course of action. Surely the correct thing to do would be to give them what we were going to leave for them anyway? Surely every child has earned the right to their parent’s property? Finally we came to the conclusion that life would be easier and more peaceful if we agreed to their demands. Prepared to sign things over, we set the date for a joint meeting and the distribution of assets.
A week before the meeting, my lawyer revealed the details of one of their documents. The next generation had been planning to declare me insane in order to take over control of the assets – the assets that my wife and I had accumulated.
My wife, using her maternal instincts, requested that they be forgiven. I used my paternal wisdom and decided to punish. I tore up the deeds that had been prepared and I demanded new documents. If my wife was surprised by my action, my lawyer was flabbergasted. My mind had been made up, and it was not going to be altered for anyone.
On the evening that the family gathered together, my lawyer handed out the sealed envelopes to each of them. I could see surprise and greed on their faces, and like dogs they pounced on the envelopes at my nod. As anticipated, they each threw down their documents on the table and stood up.
My son asked disbelievingly “Is this a joke, Papa?”
“Since when do insane people joke?” I queried softly, noting the shock on their faces. Not giving them time to respond I continued “If I was you, I would pay those documents the respect they deserve. None of you are worthy of it, but it is being given because that is our duty. It is equal and fair. Your mother and I each have the same amount as well”.
“But we have a million time more,” came my eldest grand-daughter’s comment.
And so the pack was hunting together. In a home where only wealth is worshipped, even the children will make it their God.
“No little one, you don’t have a million times more. Your grandmother and I did,” I replied.
“Did! What do you mean did?” my daughter jumped in, echoing her husband’s manner.
“Sit down everyone, for your mother and I have some generous news”. As soon as they were seated, I continued, “To atone for my sin in failing to imbibe the right qualities in our children. For failing to teach the traditions to our in-laws and for not educating our daughter and grandchildren in proper etiquette, my wife and I have donated everything else that was owned by us, to your favourite charities. We stand before you, equal in wealth and equal in emotion. We have nothing more to give you all for we own nothing else. And we want nothing from you all, for you have nothing to give. It is a good situation to be in. Finally a true equality!”
It led to a bitter battle, and when they left we had sacrificed our kids and extinguished our love.
We knew what our next move would be, to fight for pre-nuptial agreements to be made mandatory. It is the only way we parents can protect the rights of our kids. The only way our hard earned wealth can be left to us. Only ‘our children’ have the right to ‘inherit our’ property. What we give to their partners and our grandchildren must only be gifts. On our death, our estates should only be shared by those for whom we struggled and for whom we dreamed. Our children’s partners can look to their own parent to sue or abuse. This must become law. And this must be done now.