Mum's things. Where to draw the line?(10 Posts)
I'm not sure if this is the right place for this, but the practicalities and emotions are so mixed up I really need some help and perspective.
I lost my Mum 9 months ago. She had cancer and although it was no longer curable, we all (including the doctors) thought the prognosis was good in the short term. We thought we had a couple of years left. She went downhill very suddenly as it had unknowingly spread to her brain. We were unable to talk with her about any of her wishes as she had a seizure from which she never woke up.
I'm an only child and Mum left all her money, personal possessions, and share of the house she shared with my Stepdad to me (under the condition he has the right to reside there until he dies). I was unaware of the contents of her Will until after her death; we had never discussed it other than she had had it done with a particular solicitor. I understand why she would do this, and tbh I would do the same for my daughter in the same situation. She wanted my future secure and to ensure her money passed to me rather than my step siblings. To give background, my step siblings are a similar age to me and we have an ok relationship but I wouldn't want to test it, Mum and my Stepdad started dating when I was 15, and got married when I was 24 (I'm 32 now). I have a very good relationship with him, but it's not a father-daughter one as such as I've only known him as a grown-up (or near enough); we've never lived together.
I feel terribly guilty about my Stepdad's situation. He obviously inherits all the marital possessions, and he gets a small amount each month from one of Mum's pensions. She had another private pension but unfortunately that died with her. The latter we are completely confused about why she would buy an annuity that wouldn't leave something for the spouse, given she only bought it a year before she died, knowing she would have just a few years left. This has left my Stepdad somewhat in the shit, with the household income halved and living in a very large and old home which is expensive to maintain. I have been advised he could contest the Will if he wanted and as a result of this so I gave him a one-off large lump sum from Mum's money to cover approximately 2 1/2yrs of her financial input had she still been alive, adjusted for the reduced costs of living alone (eg singe occupancy council tax). I have also offered to get the clause in the Will changed so my Stepdad could sell up and use Mum's capital to buy another house which is more affordable, which is what he would like to do eventually. This last part hasn't been completed yet, and I'm nervous of how it works in terms of what costs I'm liable for when buying, maintaining, and eventually selling upon his death, given I would benefit from the 'investment' in the property. This will be sorted out by the solicitor though I suppose? I should also mention they had mirroring Wills, so if it had happened the other way around it would have been Mum in this position, though my Stepdad's pension would have left her more than he gets.
My current thoughts (the reason I'm awake at this unreasonable hour!) are the bits that fill their home from my childhood, and things that were my Grandmas. All these things are financially worth very little, but worth a lot to me. I have mentioned a few of the things and my Stepdad has been fine about them. I have suggested they stay where they are until he eventually moves as I don't want him to feel like he is living in an ever-emptying house.
This week I have been staying with him and I found one of his daughters has rearranged the kitchen. She has obviously been through all of the deep dark cupboards and dug things out, and amongst those things are a small set of plates which are now being used as everyday tableware. They are something I was given as a Christening gift and are the kind of thing you wouldn't use, but keep to pass on to your children. They currently aren't worth a fortune, but would be in another 50yrs IYSWIM? I didn't say anything as I was surprised and wondered if I was remembering correctly as I hadn't seen them in so long (Mum really had 'put them away' well). I've just woken up having dreamed about them, they are obviously playing on my mind! I don't think it's specifically the plates that are the problem though, if I really wanted those particularly items I don't think my Stepdad would have any issue letting me have them. It is the thought of all these little things dotted throughout the house which are my history. Things I don't feel I can ask for as a whole as it'll appear 'grabby', given I've ended up with so much and him so little. How do I resolve this with myself? Where do I draw the line and disconnect myself from the rest? I feel very alone (despite DH and DD) in the world with no one to share my history, and the little items that remind me of my/our life seem out of reach.
I'm sorry for such an essay, but I wanted to give the whole picture. I'm also pregnant and hormonal, and struggling to separate what is 'normal' grieving and what is due to growing a new human. TBH since finding out I was pregnant I've found coping a lot harder. I think the reality she's not coming back is finally setting in, and her missing such a big life event for me is exacerbating it.
You are right that you are dealing with a lot and the hormones won't help. I suspect the plates issue may arise with other items too. Could it be the case such items are a trigger, reminding you of the unresolved issue of your stepdad's wellbeing/ roof over his head and the fact you don't have your mum at such an important time in your life? Rather than the items being important (I do get the emotional connection to items, and these are valid connections, but you are still grieving the loss of your mum an that is the bigger picture).
The will was not your doing. Don't take too much responsibility. It sounds like you have offered your stepdad a solution and yes, you should leave the detail to a solicitor.
Also, I found it v easy for any worry to keep me awake at night when pregnant, or rather I had a wakeful pregnancy and used that time to worry! Take everything a day at a time and be kind to yourself.
Thanks for replying Yes, the wakeful nights provide an excellent opportunity to dwell and over-think. It really helped to write it down though.
I think it's just one big mess of guilt for my Stepdad combined with a lack of control over her (our?) 'stuff'. It was just me and her for most of my childhood so it feels strange someone else having ownership over things and memories which feel like I should be in possession of. I'm dreading him moving (it'll be a massive downsize) and things being tossed away which I would treasure because it's seen as junk, but I can hardly insist on doing all the clearing so that doesn't happen (although I'll offer to help of course). I'm aware this most likely sounds completely irrational, and I need to get a grip somehow to let it go.
Gosh, I'm sorry for all you've got going on.
I don't think it's unreasonable for you to go through your mum's things and take the stuff that matters to you - the plates being used is a perfect example of why you need to do that.
It's very odd about the annuity - did you mum have any advice on her purchase? It sounds like it might have been missold.
It doesn't sound irrational at all. 9 months really isn't very long at all and you have a lot of different stresses going on, with the inheritance.
I think after a bereavement objects can take on a painful significance. It can sort of feel like a betrayal to get rid of things, as if you are tossing away a part of the person or life you have lost together.
My mum died of cancer just over a year ago, my dad is also talking about moving. I know it is the right thing for him to do, but i know it will break my heart for him to clear out their house. But really those things aren't my mum, hording them all won't bring her back or allow me to relive my time with her. They are just things.
I know this is easier said than done, I have a half sewn jacket my mum was making just before she died. It doesn't fit me, and the colour is really not me, and my sewing is crap so I'd never finish it anyway, I still can't bear to through it out yet.
I think what I am saying is go easy on yourself. Losing a parent is hard. It takes a long time to deal with it. You are allowed to be a bit irrational sometimes.
WRT the annuity, I'm pretty sure that including a benficiary after death is one of the optional add-ons (like inflation-linked payments) that may be attractive but increase the cost of the annuity. It may be that your mother decided that she needed the annuity to provide income for her lifetime, and that her husband would benefit from the pension?
I spoke to the financial adviser who helped her chose her annuity and investments and he said that she had been cagey about how long she had left, but that he had tried to press her for that information. She had been downplaying the seriousness of the cancer to herself, but she was very financially conservative. A plan for the worst kind of person, having been stung and left with nothing after leaving my 'D'F. I can't imagine she wouldn't have wanted my Stepdad to struggling, which is why it's so odd. The advisor did tell me it would have reduced her payments whilst alive and said he presumed she had taken the chance she'd be around some years yet. The other pension gives my Stepdad £200/month I think, which is something, but it was by far the smaller pension pot. They used to both pay into a joint account for bills, with Mum putting in £600/m, so even with that £200 and accounting for a reduction in some of the bills it's still a large shortfall, and that's without anything going wrong with the house (which is likely, it's old). I just can't believe she would risk such a large pot of money like that, knowing how hard she saved for it. The lost pension company even had the gall to write and ask me to repay the last months payment as although she had died partway through the month, their t&cs stated she wouldn't be owed a payment for the month she died and they'd already paid it...
As for the items, I think I will need to make a list for myself and then find a way to broach it eventually. In terms of going through her things, I've already taken (with my Stepdad's knowledge and blessing) her jewellery and a good portion of her clothes (he asked me specifically to do these as he couldn't face it). The clothes I've brought home to go through at my leisure when I'm ready. Those things are fine and there was never a discussion about them as they can in no way be classed as 'marital assets', I'm just not sure how items that have been conglomerated into the wider household and can be used by others (eg plates) count? I have a really good relationship with my Stepdad, and want it to continue (not least as we're going to be tenants in common for the rest of his life) so am just very aware of seeming grabby and taking the piss. Very few items are worth damaging our relationship for. I'm just not sure if he counts these sorts of things as amongst their joint assets or her personal.
I am in a similar but entirely different situation. I think you need to have a long think about what you want and then sit down with your stepfather and have a long chat about your expectations of each other. I think leaving things in place (eg plates) feels less grabby at the moment but ultimately will leave you feeling more grabby as you will have to ask for little things lots of times.
In your shoes, I would focus on the move for now. Ask that he doesn't get rid of anything – no matter how seemingly inconsequential it is – until he moves and get him to ask his children to do the same. Anything he wants to get rid of, put in a box for you to help with. Then say you will help him pack and move and take some of your family possessions / inheritance with you at that time, as part of the general downsizing. Things like plates you can always replace with less sentimental ones. It is completely appropriate that you would want to do this and setting out what will happen in advance will let him think about which of your mother's things he would like to keep.
We are in a small house at the moment and I have hired a storage unit to give me some physical space to store inherited possessions. I hope to get rid of some of it when we move into a larger place, probably this year.
Be very very gentle with yourself at this difficult time. Being pregnant and grieving is a special kind of hell, but your baby will give you an amazing, living lifeline to the future and in some ways that will help you let go of the past. It will not stop you loving or missing your mum, but I felt like having my DC helped me let go of the past because going back would mean being without them.
(That said, I would get yourself flagged as a postnatal depression risk now if i were in your shoes).
OP you do sound as if you're being lovely towards your step dad and not grabby at all. My sisters and I found it really hard to get rid of my mum's things and found just about everything had a memory. I found myself keeping things like the tablespoon she always stirred the gravy with, broken jewellery, old scarves and all kinds of things. Gradually I have let some of them go as I know the real things - the love, and the happy childhood, will never go. What I will say is, there were lots of things which I reluctantly got rid of and I can honestly say I can't remember any of them now. At the time, I felt like I wanted to keep everything she'd ever touched! That's not much help to you I know but I wanted to say I know how you feel.
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