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How to have an honest conversation with my stepmom about my Dad's final wishes

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  anita 1 week, 3 days ago.

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  • #325499

    Cristina
    Participant

    My father past away over two years ago. My sister (she is the executor) and I have been dealing with the estate ever since, trying to get things settled. The stress of dealing with lawyers, accountants, lenders, and debt collectors has been difficult to bear, and has fallen upon us, his daughters. To complicate matters further our Dad expressed to us while he was dying in the hospital that he wanted to change his will. We did not want him to worry about these matters while he was in the hospital, and although he tried to write things down, he was really too weak to make it happen. Unbeknownst to us, he had not updated his will since 2006. He married our stepmother in 2012. He told my sister and I that he felt he had “taken care” of his wife and that she should not get a portion of his estate. By taken care of, he meant he had signed over a property that they had purchased together in the early 90’s, which turned out to be a very lucrative investment (2 times the value of his entire estate). The reason our Dad signed over the property to her was because he could not stomach how she let her adult daughter live there for free and how she supported her daughter financially. So they separated their finances.

    We have never had a conversation with our stepmother about what our Dad said in the hospital.

    Now we are coming to the point where we need to sell my Dad’s house which was part of his estate. It’s heartbreaking for us (his kids) to lose the connection to where we grew up. I’m experiencing a lot of grief over this loss. According to the will, his wife will get 20% of the estate.

    My stepmother has sold her property that my Dad signed over to her and she and her daughter never have to worry about finances again.

    It is eating at me that we have never had a conversation with our stepmother about our Dad’s wishes. I feel like it is an elephant in the room sitting on my chest. I feel like deep down our stepmother knows too that our Dad would not be happy with how things worked out.

    Is there a way to have this conversation with her? I don’t feel like I can have an honest relationship with her without bringing up things that have not been spoken. The burden of this information is a lot to carry.

    #325593

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Cristina:

    I understand your distress. From personal experience, it is unlikely that your late father’s wife will give up the 20% from the sale of the house because she doesn’t have to, legally, and she can choose to doubt your account of what your father said (but failed to put down in writing). Maybe she would if you and her share a deep bond of honesty and trust.

    “I don’t feel like I can have an honest relationship with her without bringing up things”-  did you or do you have an honest relationship with her?

    anita

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 5 days ago by  anita.
    #325719

    Cristina
    Participant

    Hi Anita,

    Thank you for the reply. That is a good question about what kind of relationship did I have with my stepmother. I do feel like we had a pretty good relationship. She was in my life for over 30 years. Looking back, we have had some really good times together, some honest conversations, and I do appreciate that she was there for my Dad and helped him enjoy his life. I don’t think that she is a necessarily a bad person, but I do think that I am seeing her dark side. I think that I could express myself in a compassionate way with her. I’m on draft 4 of my letter to her, and the versions are getting less angry and more heart-felt.

    I can’t deny that I’ve seen a side of her since my Dad died with regard to the estate that has been unpleasant and frankly feels greedy. I understand her want and need to take care of herself and her daughter. I truly feel that my Dad took good care of her, which enabled her to take care of her own child, which caused an issue for my Dad, and led him to sign over a very lucrative investment property over to her. So I can’t help but feel that my Dad took care of her (and by extension her daughter) to the detriment of his own children. Yes, my Dad made some poor decisions. I think she would agree to that as well. She knows that my Dad day-traded his kid’s retirement away. I told her this recently, and was met with a blank stare, upon which she informed me that my Dad was a gambler with the stock market. I didn’t feel any compassion from her at that point. Which stings…

    I don’t have any expectations that she would waive her share of my Dad’s estate. I can’t see myself having any type of relationship with her without being completely honest with what my Dad shared with me and my sister. I do understand that she could refute what I tell her, and even the possibility that she could bring up some unpleasant things that my Dad may have said to her about us. However, I do think that in her heart she would know that my Dad would not be happy with the way things have played out for his children. It feels pointless to pretend that everything is OK. I can accept that my relationship with her may end too.

    I’m having a hard time stomaching that after all of the stress and work that my sister and I have done over the last 2 years to get the estate settled, that when it’s all sorted we just hand her a check.

     

     

    #325725

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Cristina:

    I will be able to read and reply to your recent post when I return to the computer, in about 13 hours from now.

    anita

    #325827

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Cristina:

    The sad reality is that your father signed over “a very lucrative investment property to her”, that he “took care of her (and by extension her daughter) to the detriment of his own children”, having “day-traded his kid’s retirement early”.

    And it is also reality, that legally, you have no way to correct his actions following his death. His wife feels justified in having received that lucrative investment and in receiving that check that you will be handing her when the rest of the estate settles. There is nothing you can say to her, no perfect wording that will dissolve the greed that is strong in her.

    Compassion for you- I am sure she will be willing to express that for you as long as it doesn’t involve money, as long as she receives that check, as she is legally entitled to it.

    You wrote that your relationship with her may end. I think it will because I can’t see you being comfortable with her again. she will not give up that check she is expecting and which she is legally entitled to: people don’t do that, it would take a very exceptional human being to not take what is legally coming to them. Her loyalty is to her biological adult child, not to the adult children of another woman.

    This story is so common, it happens all over, again and again. I know of a story closer to me, a father who gave away his house and big property attached (while still alive) not to his biological children, not to his one especially-dedicated, loving son who did so much for him, but to… a woman who did nothing at all for him. That woman then proceeded to change the locks so that the bio adult children have no access to the house.

    Beats me, how and why people do that, why parents betray their own dedicated children, while their children are minor, by the way, and later in life. It is painful, a painful reality. I wish it wasn’t your reality.

    anita

     

    #325835

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Cristina:

    An afterthought: I do know why parents who betray their children, do so- I figured it out some time ago. They know that their children love them unconditionally, no matter what. So, they give their resources to those whose love has been conditional, their resources being that condition. In other words, their children’s love and dedication is secure, they don’t have to give so to attain or maintain it.

    anita

    #325907

    Cristina
    Participant

    Wow, Anita. That is a powerful insight about parents, children, parent’s spouses and conditional love.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said. A shaman once told me that the only really, pure, and true love is that between a parent and a child (I think he specified mother and child). All other relationships involve 2 people who “use” each other for something. “Use” doesn’t have to mean a bad thing necessarily. It’s just something that each party gets from the other. A deal they make, so to speak.

    This is making me question, “what is love?” A big topic to ponder…

    It makes me sad that my Dad felt he needed to “buy” my stepmother’s love, but that seems like what it comes down to. It all feels so cold and transactional. But maybe this is an artifact of how my Dad felt about himself, or a different time and generation. I don’t know.

    You’re so right, that these stories are so common. In addition to your friend’s story, I’ve heard of so many others like this. It’s pervasive and unfortunately you don’t see people’s true colors often until after the spouse dies. My sisters and I are lucky that my Dad had a Trust, and specified that we each get something.

    It’s a bummer that he couldn’t stand up to his wife and convey his wishes to her. I’m still wrestling with why he told us, but I think in some way he was trying to make amends for losing our retirement. But yeah, I don’t think I will end up having a relationship with my stepmom in the future. I kind of feel like ultimately she saw my Dad as her and her daughter’s meal ticket, and the sad thing is, on some level that deal was OK for my Dad.

    Thanks again for your help, insights, and understanding. I will continue to work through it, and ponder these larger questions.

    Cristina

    #325909

    Cristina
    Participant

    I just remembered what this shaman said about Love.  He said that “Love is Responsibility”. Pondering that again…

    #325991

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Cristina:

    You are very welcome.

    (It must have been a typo in your original post, that your father and stepmother married in 2012, correct, it being that they’ve been together for over 30 years and that he last updated the will in 2006)

    “Love is Responsibility”, the Shaman you mentioned said. I would add to the definition: love is  just responsibility, the word justice being in it. Your father did not practice just responsibility, did he. He practiced partial, inadequate responsibility and so, unfortunately, his legacy with his daughters is that of hurt and sometimes anger.

    And like you wrote yourself: “these stories are so  common.. I’ve heard of so many others like this”. I would say justice (back to this word, this quality) is uncommon. Injustice in all its forms is the norm, not the exception and it leaves behind millions of hurt and angry people every day.

    Knowing this is the reality we didn’t choose, but it is our reality nonetheless, knowing it is the norm, not the exception, if there is no way for us to correct a particular injustice, we better endure that hurt and replace that anger (when we can) with sadness, not keeping it burning inside us.

    Back to the Shaman, he said that “the only really, pure and true love is that between a parent and a child.. mother and child.. All other relationships involve 2 people who ‘use’ each other for something”- –there are mothers and fathers who do love their children unconditionally, but many parents don’t. Many fathers and many, many mothers use their children. What I learned is that a young child always loves his parents unconditionally.

    Lots of mothers (and fathers) criticize their children mercilessly. A young child never, ever criticizes her or his parents, no matter how faulty they are. The child doesn’t see those faults.  For the child, the parent is a god: unquestionably perfect, strong,  good and just. Part of the child that looks up to the parent as perfect, wanting desperately to to please the parent- that part never dies. As adults, we see our parents’ faults but we love them anyway. We may complain about them.. but we love them anyway, we won’t leave them (that hardly ever happens).

    Your stepmother, she didn’t see your father the way you and your sisters saw him. For her, he was never a god, so it was transactional, the word you used. When you hand her that 20% check, that will be the ending part of that transaction.

    I suppose it is your luck, that at the least, your father had a Trust for you and your sisters.

    “I’m still wrestling with why he told us”- to ease his guilt, perhaps. But if he didn’t tell her and didn’t insist on putting in in writing, in a legally binding way, then his words to you were empty.

    “I kind of feel like ultimately she saw my Dad as her and her daughter’s meal ticket, and the sad thing is, on some level that deal was OK for my Dad”- this kind of deal is okay with many men, from paying women in street corners for sex, all the way to rich,  older men marrying much younger, pretty women. The exchange of money and sex, whether sex is involved in a one time transaction or a long term relationship, is as old as the beginning of human society.

    In addition to  it, financial considerations are part of all adult romantic relationships, sooner or later, because we do have to look for our material needs and the needs of our children. In many cases though, greed expands the nature of what is materially needed to expensive cars and houses, that are not really needs, but wants.

    Feel free to post again anytime,  on the matter of the inheritance, responsibility and love.

    anita

     

     

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