Baby’s First Bequest: How Do You Spend Someone Else’s Money?

Plenty of men I’m close to have died, but I’ve never inherited money before. My grandfather’s assets went to my grandma, my uncle’s to my aunt, my dad’s to my mom. My Uncle David, though, who died unexpectedly this summer, left no spouse and no children. His will instructed his executor to divide whatever was left of his estate, after certain disbursements were made, among his nephews and niece.

That’s me. Well, my brothers, my cousin, and me.

We were informed several months ago, during Probate, that we would each be getting a check. My Uncle David wasn’t rich; he was a civil servant and, as I’ve mentioned, he spent much of his money helping out people he loved. But he had cash in savings, enough to get him through the modest, comfortable retirement he didn’t live to see.

Yesterday, my check arrived. I immediately began overthinking.

How do you spend what was, so recently, someone else’s money, money that has arrived in your mailbox not because you earned it but because you were related to a frugal and responsible person who’s now deceased? I mean, sure, I have medical bills sitting on my desk, bills for pre-natal care and for the therapy appointments I go to once every two weeks because that’s what I’ve figured I can afford. I’ve needed a new phone for half a year. Now that the weather’s getting even colder, I could really use some long-sleeved maternity shirts.

None of these is a pressing, dire need. So are these options too mundane? Even somehow disrespectful? I’m always scared I’m doing things wrong, all the more when there’s no one watching me, no one to whom I can appeal for the “right” answer. This is my first bequest. I don’t want to screw it up.

I’ve already mentally put aside a sum to help contribute to the cost and care of my Uncle David’s and my father’s memorial stones in the Santa Fe cemetery. Beyond that, should I mitigate my complicated feelings by giving some to my synagogue, even though David wasn’t particularly religious? To some charity, even though David preferred to use his funds to help out people he knew first-hand? I would let my conscience be my guide but my conscience right now looks like one big shruggie emoji.

Grief mixed with money is a potent cocktail. This check feels heavier to me than it should, and harder to deal with, because there are so many people I miss. I was privileged to know them, and now I’m privileged in this other, more concrete, more awkward way.

I probably will finally upgrade my dysfunctional phone. I probably will pay off the hospital and the lab and my wise, patient therapist. I probably will make a donation to my synagogue and to charity, and put some money in Babygirl’s 529, and I will be grateful as I do all of these things. But I will also be conscious throughout that my ability to spend came at a steep emotional cost, and that there are so many people I would gladly trade this money — and more — to get one more day with.

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