Passed Over Inheritance
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, 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.
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 vicuous 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.
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.
- 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.
- At the end of Gran Torino, his 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. Crowning Moment of Awesome when they show the expression on the family members faces, and Crowning Moment of Heartwarming as he drives away.
- 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 PG 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.
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.
- Subverted in the episode "Black is the Widow" from the 2018 reboot of Magnum, P.I.. A young woman hires Magnum to look into the death of her father. As it happens his will did not mention her directly but instead wills the money for medical research. But at the end after the killer is found, she visits the doctor to whom the money was willed. It turns out she has a genetic disease that her father could not bear to tell her about. And the doctor was looking for a cure. So in a sense she did inherit it.
- The Billy Currington song "People Are Crazy" hint at this plot near the end.
Recorded and Stand Up Comedy
- 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."
- 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.
- 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 among whom the fortune will be divided. 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.
- The Aristocats: Edgar the butler is likely to fall victim to the trope. He finds out that his employer plans to leave him her entire fortune... after the cats inherit it first, and pass it over to their own descendants, that is.
- One may wonder why he was in such a hurry to get rid of the cats, considering Madame Bonfamille didn't seem to be dying any time soon.
- Uh, after naming as heir the one man on her premises with unrestricted access to the food she eats, the drugs she takes, and the chemicals he cleans her house with? It's not addressed in the film (naturally, as it's Disney), but if the cats hadn't returned when they did, Edgar would've been able to poison the baroness and take the full inheritance without tripping over a single feline. So yeah, she'd definitely be dying some time soon.
- One may wonder why he was in such a hurry to get rid of the cats, considering Madame Bonfamille didn't seem to be dying any time soon.
- 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.