Invisible Mother-in-Law Might Make Her Legacy Disappear

By Amy Dickinson | September 20th, 2017

Dear Amy: My husband and I are retired. We married 12 years ago — several years after his ex had an affair and left him.

My husband has two grown sons (around 40), one of whom is married. The married son and his wife essentially ignore that I exist. My attempts to talk to them directly about it have not been well received.

They are still upset that we opted to elope, instead of having a “real” wedding and inviting them. I also suspect that my lack of fundamental Christian religious beliefs may add fuel to the fire, although my husband has the same beliefs as mine.

For the first five years of our marriage, I tried extremely hard to create a relationship by planning vacations with them and inviting them to our home. This was exhausting, painful, and only made matters worse.

I continue to take the high road. I always remember birthdays and holidays with cards and nice gifts, although such attention is never reciprocated.

I attend large family gatherings where they are present, and I am always cordial and friendly. I feel that I owe this to my husband.

Here’s the issue: I brought the vast majority of our considerable net worth into the marriage. My husband wants to leave a large amount to this son and his wife, but I am opposed to this. I have other long-standing, loving relationships that I would like to recognize (although I have no children of my own).

This is causing an issue in our otherwise very happy marriage. What do you think?

– Invisible Mother-in-Law

Dear Invisible: Outside the idea of you doing what your husband wants in order to please him, it is hard to justify basically rewarding people who have been unkind to you with a big payday upon your death.

You and your husband came together later in life, each bringing your own values — as well as financial assets — to the marriage. You should check the laws in your state to determine which of your assets would be considered community property. Then you should then earmark your own funds to go wherever you want after your death. Your husband should do the same.

See an estate planner. An “incentive trust” sets down benchmarks for behavior that a potential recipient must demonstrate before receiving funds, although “behave like a decent person” is fairly hard to quantify.

This issue reveals the magnitude of how hurt you feel. Your husband could probably influence his son, and inspire (or insist upon) basic politeness and kindness toward you. You don’t say that he has tried.

Regarding birthdays and holidays, if it makes you feel good to give when you never receive, then continue to do this. But maybe this couple should feel the consequences of their behavior now, versus after you are gone.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers.

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