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Family Jewels

Dear Robin:

My mother died 2 years ago after a year-long battle with cancer. My father remarried (Marie) last month but that’s not my issue.

During my parents’ marriage my father gave my mother a good deal of expensive jewelry. When he told me he was engaged I asked him if mom’s jewelry was going to be worn by his new wife (not cool).

I’m also concerned about changes he may be making in his will to benefit Marie and her two daughters (she is 12 years younger than he is and her kids live with them).

Imagine my surprise when he told me most of the jewelry had already gone to my sister! My mother gave it to her before she died.

I confronted my sister about it and told her she has a moral obligation to share these pieces with me. She refused. My father does not want to get in the middle of it.

Don’t you think she has a duty to share it with me? Do I have a legal claim to this jewelry?

How is it right that one of her two heirs got everything? Do you think it’s possible my mother may not have been of sound mind when she thoughtlessly gave it all to my sister?

Penny

Dear Penny:

Please accept my condolences on the loss of your mother, your mind, and your sense of decorum.

Thank you for sharing some additional facts with me over email.

Penny, Pam and Mom

1. Penny and her mom were never close, and while her mom had cancer Penny was rarely around.

2. Penny was quite the wild child and always resented her mother for trying to reign her in by sending her to boarding school when she was 15. She is now a successful professional in a happy marriage with two kids.

Even though boarding school was eventually a joy for Penny and led to college and a very lucrative career, she never got over being “sent away.” Penny does not blame her dad.

3. Penny’s sister “Pam” was always very close to her mom and was mom’s nurse for months while she lay dying.

Pam was a good kid who never gave her parents any trouble and as such was not banished from the home. Don’t you hate sisters like these? I know my siblings do.

4. Over the years Penny repeatedly pointed out specific items to her mom that she hoped to get “someday.”

“Over the years” includes just weeks after mom’s diagnosis with Stage 4 breast cancer and on those rare occasions when Penny would visit her mom during the course of her ultimately unsuccessful treatment.

Advice for Penny

1. “Don’t you think she has a duty to share it with me? Do I have a legal claim to this jewelry?”

If you mean “duty” or “claim” in the legal sense, no. I am opining here, not giving you legal advice. Please see my disclaimer: I Ain’t Yer Lawyer.

These were gifts given to your sister by your mom and you have no more claim to them than your sister has claim to the book your husband bought you for your last birthday, “How to be Less Selfish and Greedy and More Loving to Your Family.”

If you mean “duty” in the “family duty” sort of way, the answer is still “no.”

Your mom obviously wanted your sister to have the jewelry and in turn clearly wanted you not to have it.

That may be due to the fact you were fingering her Yurman (ouch!) and trying on her Egyptian gold while your sister was holding what remained of mom’s hair out of her face during her 13th puking session of the day.

2. “How is it right that one of her two heirs got everything?”

This is such a common misconception that I am happy to blow it up in today’s blog.

Until your mom actually died, she had no heirs. You were a potential heir, a fancy way of saying you had no legal rights to any of her property despite your laser-focused designs upon them.

Even if she hadn’t given the jewelry to your sister while she was alive, she had the right to convey that property in her will to whomever she chose.

3. “Do you think it’s possible my mother may not have been of sound mind when she thoughtlessly gave it all to my sister?”

I have no idea what your mother’s state of mind was at the time she gave her baubles to Pam and I really don’t care, but let’s assume for fun she was non-compus-poopus.

Even if she was mad as a hatter, so what? Would you pursue your sister in court to get something you could buy yourself?

And if you won (you wouldn’t), would possession of these things finally soothe the feelings of pain and rejection you’ve suffered from since you were 15? Would you be able to wear the jewelry without being constantly reminded not only that she didn’t want you to have it, but that she didn’t even want to live with you when you were growing up?

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I don’t think so, Penny.

Things are just things, after all.

No bracelet or necklace can change the relationship you had with your mother and erase your anger at being sent 3,000 miles away from your family because they didn’t know how to deal with your fairly typical teenage behavior.

Your mom is dead and it’s far past the time when you need to get over your childhood, despite your being shipped off by parents ill-equipped to handle your pubescent rebellion.  I know that was difficult, but given how you came to adore boarding school and where your life went from there, I think your childhood sounds pretty damn great compared with 99.9% of the world’s children.

To be blunt: get a grip and buy your own jewelry.  You have a sucessful career you enjoy, a happy marriage, and two kids who don’t give you the kind of trouble you gave your parents.  Stop living in the past or you’ll miss all the wonderful things happening today.

Penny Has PMS

In closing, I’d like to note you have a stunning entitlement complex I like to call “PMS,” which stands for “Princess Mentality Syndrome.”

You have absolutely no right to be inquiring about your step-mother’s use of the jewelry, as anything not given to your lucky sister belongs to your father and he can do as he pleases with it. He paid for it, after all.

In addition, it is exceedingly inappropriate for you to speculate about your father’s estate plan. Did you work all those long hours over the years to build the impressive estate?

No.

You had nothing to do with it and in fact have already greatly benefitted from your father’s hard work via your exceptional education.

Similarly, you have no right to demand anything of your sister. I imagine if you had approached her in a different way you may have gotten a different response.

Perhaps at some point you can try again, but until then spend some time mourning the loss of your mom and considering how Pam felt about being the only kid around to help when your mother was dying.

You need to own your part in how things turned out, because what you lack in accountability you are making up for in self-righteous indignation and audacious greed.

Chew on that for a while and then call me because I’d love to go jewelry shopping with you.

Somehow I think you will take much more pleasure sporting a gorgeous piece you paid for yourself than you will fastening your mother’s disappointment with you around your neck like a golden albatross.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. PDX lawyer

    This sounds familiar to me. My brother’s view on life is he shouldn’t have to get a job because when our dad dies he will have plenty of money. I haven’t told him dad is leaving most of it to a foundation. Is that wrong? Lol.

    What’s happening with you, Robin? Where is the update you promised? How are you and your son doing?

    1. Robin DesCamp

      Thank you for your questions. Unfortunately, I am restricted by ORPC 3.6 until my divorce is concluded and there are many things I cannot post here while the case is being adjudicated. I’m also saving it for a book. The last thing I need is another bar complaint from someone who doesn’t like what I write. I can post things that are in the public record so I may post some pleadings, but I’m not sure my readers are all that interested in my little battle. I’ll gauge interest as we go along. Since you are a Portland lawyer, at least according to your name, you can see for yourself what is happening by reading the filings online. I continue to market and grow my business but since I must represent myself, I’ll have to back off a bit on new client retention so as not to have a negative impact on my clients and myself. My son is thriving and loves his school and friends. I am an extremely fortunate woman and I am growing beyond myself every day.

  2. ssirish

    Good luck, Robin. I am curious about settling an estate for a blended family. It does seems to raise questions and concerns.

  3. Signal Mixer

    Spot on. It’s not Penny’s money and it’s not Penny’s jewelry. Dad might consider taking whatever he might have intended to leave to Penny and bequeathing it to Penny’s children instead, because, under Penny’s logic, they have a right to Penny’s estate, and Dad would simply be letting his grandchildren enjoy their inheritance sooner.

  4. You are right!

    I missed this when you first posted it, but I have to say hooray, hooray, hooray!!!! You are absolutely, 100%, perfectly, correct in your advice here!

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