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This afternoon my parents visited me. It was all pretty normal until just before they left, they told me that my estranged grandfather apparently suddenly felt the need to donate a large gift of money to all his grandchildren. Then they handed me an envelope containing a considerable amount of money.

Apparently, he gave a set of these envelopes to my uncle, who then gave them to my parents, who then gave them to me and my siblings. I haven't spoken to my grandfather for years and neither have most of his other relatives (outside my uncle) for some family-related issues (which are a long story).

From what I heard (indirectly) the reason for this was apparently the death of his sister and seeing how much of a hassle inheritance law was. My uncle said there's no intention to guilt us into anything; he just wanted to get the money to us in an easier way.

I'm not a particularly outgoing or socially strong person, and my grandfather has a long history of being selfish and peculiar. It's not that I really dislike him, but he's often rather reclusive and I have a hard time maintaining good ties with my family even when those members make an effort. Obviously I feel that I should thank him for this gift, but I'm a bit stumped on how to go about it. What's an appropriate way to express thanks here?

(My grandfather lives within travelling distance, and I can get his current address through my parents. I don't think he's using a computer.)

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    While this isn't directly relevant to the question, depending on the jurisdiction you probably want to look at what the tax implications are for you. While inheritance might be a hassle gift giving is usually also regulated in at least some manner in most countries. – DRF Sep 18 '17 at 5:31
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    @DRF the size of the gift was picked to be large, but just under what you can legally receive without having to pay taxes over it. So fortunately, that's not an issue. – Erik Sep 18 '17 at 5:49
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Write a kind letter, expressing appreciation for the gift.

It is very thoughtful of your grandfather to try to eliminate some of the hassles involved in the distribution of his estate after he passes. You can at least say that much (just the thoughtful part, not why) truthfully.

In the US, a thank you note is not considered enough if all it says is "thank you for the gift."

It's considered polite to explain if the gift will help you and how. Then repeat your thanks.

My uncle said there's no intention to guilt us into anything; he just wanted to get the money to us in an easier way.

There seem to be absolutely no strings attached to the gift. You don't suddenly have to like him, invite him to visit you, go visit him, or forgive him for being difficult. A no-strings-attached gift requires only a letter of thanks (unless your uncle was holding something back from your parents.)

It could be as easy as,

Dear Grandpa (or whatever it was that you called him when you were talking with him),

My mom and dad just surprised me with your very generous and thoughtful gift. Thank you so much!

As I'm still paying off college loans, this will help me to become debt-free, and the rest will be used towards a down payment on a house, which my wife and I were planning to buy as soon as we could save enough. So your gift is a huge help. I will think of you often as we start fulfilling our dreams!

I hope this finds you in good health,

Gratefully,

Erik.

I have recently started to disperse of my "estate" similarly. There are no strings attached to the monetary gifts I'm giving my kids, except one: use at least some to have fun with.

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    Excellent response and example letter. @Erik: Depending on the dynamics, it may also be polite/politic to acknowledge your uncle's role as mediator in your thank-you letter. Possibly even mentioning him instead of your parents as the conduit for the gift (it's a subtle call: in a sense, all your parents did was hand over the envelope; your uncle potentially had the trickier job mediating between the two "sides"). In either case, a second "thank you" (either in a letter or as an explicit conversation) to your uncle for acting as mediator is probably also appropriate. – TripeHound Sep 18 '17 at 7:39
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    On my first reading of your last sentence, I thought "Wow, what did that one kid do to get left out like that?" – user2390246 Sep 18 '17 at 10:21
  • Depending on your grandfather's personality, I maybe wouldn't mention paying down debt. It's boring and people who give lots of money sometimes like to hear what sort of exciting things you'll do with a large gift: a house is a good idea, maybe tell them you'll use it to take a trip. – Azor Ahai Sep 18 '17 at 18:01
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    @Azor-Ahai - I would not presume to know what would make the grandfather happy. Perhaps the parents or uncle might help there. – anongoodnurse Sep 18 '17 at 18:41
  • @anongoodnurse Of course not, my comment wasn't so much directed to you as it was an addendum for the OP to consider. I had a very similar event happen in my life and thought I'd add a suggestion to your answer. – Azor Ahai Sep 18 '17 at 18:45
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I live in the US, and whenever I'm in a situation like this--someone gives me a message through a third party--I usually ask the third party for advice about how to respond. I find that this is helpful for several reasons. First, the third party who delivered the message often knows the best way to reach the person who sent the message. Second, there sometimes is a reason why the message was sent through a third party: maybe the person sending the message doesn't feel comfortable talking to me directly, etc. I've found that the third party usually can give me some advice about how to navigate through any interpersonal minefields that might exist.

While I don't know the specifics of this incident, since your uncle is the one who originally received the money, I would recommend asking your uncle what the best way to thank your grandfather is. Your grandfather most likely had a reason for wanting to communicate through your uncle, and will therefore be more receptive if you communicate your return message through your uncle as well. And it's likely that your uncle knows more about your grandfather than you do; your grandfather is your uncle's father.

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    What information do you feel should be required for a better answer? – Erik Sep 18 '17 at 6:08
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I would like to add to @anongoodnurse's excellent answer.

A proper (personal and detailed) thank you in some way (letter, phone call, etc.) is the most appropriate response.

It could be, though, that the estranged grandfather is making some kind of attempt to reconnect, to repair the relationship.

My source for this? Personal experience. In my grandparent's generation, there was some kind of unpleasantness and different branches of the family were not in contact. For a long time.

Out of the blue, a great-uncle of mine gave generous gifts to several family members. It was a reaching out gesture, and it was a step to repairing the rift in the family. We had a pleasant, undemanding connection from then until his death.

I don't know what is better here, a letter or a phone call (though I am a big fan of letters when a relationship is damaged). Your uncle (or your parents) might have a suggestion. But consider (this is an option; a no-strings-attached gift does not obligate you) either:

  • writing a thank you note and adding a line leaving an opening for more contact. Something like:

    I appreciate hearing from you, even indirectly, after so many years.

    Possibly adding:

    I would love to be in touch again. If that is true.

  • making either a thank you phone call or a followup phone call after the thank you note, just to say hello.

However you do it, since he is reclusive, do it in a non-demanding way, so he can refuse, or back out quickly, without being hurtful, if he is uncomfortable with this.

You do not have to do this. Think it through carefully -- what are the reasons for the estrangement? If it was because of problematic behavior such as not respecting people's boundaries, abuse, etc. then I do not recommend that you do this.

If for other reasons, it could open the door to a rewarding relationship that you otherwise might miss out on.

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@Stretto commented (now deleted):

It depends on how much you feel about him and the situation. If you actually care about your blood relation and the fact that he did this out of kindness (he could have just burned the money if he just wanted to spite the government) then I think you should at the very least visit him. After all, family is family and regardless of the [stuff] that goes on in our lives, at the end of the day there is no point in living if we can't learn to enjoy and accept one another (this is the main problem with the world).

So, think about it like this: He's your grandfather, he probably won't be living much longer, why don't you get to know him? Maybe that will be a rewarding experience, if not, then it won't... but once he's dead you won't have any chance to do so.

The [absurdly minor] problems that people use as excuses to hold grudges and continue being victims is part of the insanity of the world (look at American blacks with slavery or Germans with WWII, etc). He's a person, you're a person. Maybe he also has interpersonal communication issues and does not know how to deal with people?.

You should have done this without the money, but the money does give you more incentive to at least make a connection. At least put the ball in his court. Most likely he has realized his mortality (which you can NEVER know until you get there) and is going through that (which is extremely difficult for many because they have to come to terms with the inevitable). So, think about when you get there, do you want to be alone and have no one care about you? What's the point of life if we just have our instant gratification for (50 years or so) then end up alone and unhappy? Was it worth it?

After all, the sum of money sounds like, at the minimum (I assume it's around 10-20k US), is enough to afford you a "vacation". Remember, he didn't have to give it to you. Would it be worth it to go buy a new car? Some fancy new toy that you've always wanted that you will get tired of in a few years that only fills in the gap between the next toy? Or maybe getting a life-long experience that will benefit you want your grandchildren.

Money is a meaningless fabrication perpetrated on us by greed. It's taken him, what, at least 60 years, to realize that... how long will it take you?

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