Fighting Over the 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 it 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?


Dear Penny:

Please accept my condolences on the loss of your mother and apparently your mind and sense of decorum as well. 

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 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.

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 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 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, 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.

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?


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 she 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.



P.S. For Marie:

Feel free to reach out to me.  You are in for some tough times that can truly challenge a marriage.  


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. tamsen

    Really, what is it with some people. You’re absolutely right Robin. No one has the right to assume or expect ANYTHING from their parents in the way of inheritance. No one gets to be pissy if Mom or Dad saw fit to give on their death bed (or any other time), or leave in a will, their property to whomever they please. It is THEIR property. Property doesn’t belong to an heir, unless that heir is named in a will as the heir to that particular piece of property. And you are also correct that you aren’t an heir while the parent is still alive. You’re only an heir if the parent is dead. I suppose in movie language you can be the “heir apparent”, and they use that term because it seems logical to the outside world you might be the heir (“apparently”) but it isn’t a done deal until the person is dead and the will is read. This woman should do exactly as you said, go buy her own jewelry. Her Mom’s jewelry isn’t going to make her feel any better.

  2. NW Mama

    I am here mostly to comment on Marie’s future as the stepmother to a selfish adult, although your advice regarding the jewelry was as usual spot-on.

    My stepchildren are basically great people but downright selfish and self-absorbed when it comes to me and my children even though I have spent years doing my best to earn their love and respect by going overboard to be loving and giving and helpful. My husband never stands up for me.

    I’m starting to wish I had met someone with either more giving and thoughtful kids or better yet none at all. Marie, I hope you are prepared for a lifetime of coming dead last because this caught my eye and sounds like my own husband “My father does not want to get in the middle of it.” He sounds like a wimp and probably because he is afraid of angering his kids who he loves. He SHOULD get in the middle of it because Penny is acting like a jerk and should be told so by her dad who owes it to her.

    Being a step-parent really sucks sometimes. I’m starting to think I’m coming to the end of my very frayed rope.

  3. Mortified

    IS THIS FOR REAL?? I am amazed at the people that are out there and what they view as “entitlement” because of their bloodline! Poor poor Marie, I believe Pam will do her best to accept Marie, especially if she makes her pops happy, but that woman has got the hardest climb ahead of her. I hope dad is a loving husband to her and finds a way to try and ease the torment that Penny is going to be dishing out every chance she gets. Too bad she can’t get sent away to Boarding School again, guess it didn’t really solve her behavior issues, or she wouldn’t be acting this way today. This honestly makes me very sad, because I would rather have my mother here today, than any bauble that she may have left with me when she left this world. Poor girl really needs therapy!

  4. Debbie

    The one with the biggest problem here is the new wife Marie. Unless you live it, you can’t possibly understand what women married to men with children, even or especially adult children, go through.

  5. Ali Whiting

    Excellent post Robin!

  6. BoyOhBoy

    Stepmother here. I have two ungrateful and manipulative step children who use their father for money and otherwise ignore him and us, but who shower their mother with affection and attention. I’m so fucking over it.

  7. askdescamp

    I’m starting to see a book forming here…

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