Fighting Over Mom’s Jewelry


Dear Robin:

My mother died 2 years ago after a year-long battle with cancer.  My father remarried last month (quick rebound!) but that’s not my issue.  My family is fairly well-off and during my parents’ marriage my father gave my mother a good deal of expensive jewelry.  We are talking at least one or two gifts of significance over a 35 year marriage.

I have wondered for some time what happened to these items, but assumed they were in my father’s possession and my sister and I would split them when he died. However, when he told me he was getting married I asked him if mom’s jewelry was going to be worn by his new wife, because that would be very upsetting to me.  I’m also frankly concerned about changes he may be making in his will to benefit her 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 it had already gone to my sister!  My mother  apparently gave it to her before she died.  My sister spent the year of my mom’s illness taking care of her as my father still works at least 55 hours a week, and during that time mom starting giving away these magnificent pieces.

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?


Dear Penny:

Please accept my condolences on the loss of your mother and apparently your mind and sense of decorum as well.  It must be hard to lose so much all at once.


Thank you for sharing some additional facts with me.  Readers, listen up:

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.  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” by her mom.  Penny does not blame her dad.

3. Penny’s sister “Pam” was always very close to her mom and as Penny mentioned in her letter, Pam was mom’s nurse while she was sick.  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 mine does.


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.

OK Penny, here are some answers to your specific questions followed by some advice that you didn’t seek but that I think could help you.

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.  Please remember I am simply opining here, not giving you legal advice.  Please see disclaimer: I’m not your lawyer so don’t even think about suing me.


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 (whatever the fuck that means), 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.  In addition, 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.  Again, please see disclaimer.

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 your her baubles to Pam, and I really don’t care.  See everything above ^^^^^^^^^

Let’s assume I am totally wrong.


Even if she was mad as a hatter and you had a legal right to the jewelry, then what? Would you really 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 that she didn’t want you to have it?

I don’t think so, Penny.

Things are just things, after all.  No bracelet or necklace, even if stunning and precious, can change the unfortunate relationship you had with your mother all these years.  Jewelry can’t erase your anger that you were sent 3,000 miles away from your family because they didn’t know how to deal with your fairly typical teenage behavior.


I’m sorry you were sent away and I’m sorry you were never able to repair your relationship with your mom.  However, I think you have probably been too hard on her all these years.  After all, you are close to your dad and he shared equally in the decision to send you to boarding school.

Your mom is dead and it’s far past the time when you need to get over your childhood, which frankly sounds pretty amazing to me compared to 99.9% of children in the world.  You have a great career, a happy marriage and two kids of your own. Stop living in the past or you’ll miss all the wonderful things happening today.


In closing, I’d like to note you have a massive entitlement complex.  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 someday you can try again, but until then I suggest you spend some time mourning both the loss of your mom and the loss of a better relationship with her while she was alive.

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 greed.


Chew on that for a while and then call me, 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 unhappiness with you around your neck like a golden albatross.



This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Lee Kallett

    Love your reply. You’re absolutely spot on with it.

  2. raftman

    Awesomely spot-on and uproariously entertaining – all in one blog. What’s not to like….

  3. Earline Penson

    I love your response , right on the mark

Comments are closed.