The Moneyist: ‘I feel so betrayed’: Who should get my mother’s diamond rings? My late sister left them to her daughter-in-law. What options do I have?

Dear Quentin,

By the time I was 19, both of my parents had passed away. My mom died from heart disease and my dad died two years later from lung cancer. My sister and I were quite close, but her alcoholic husband was always “stirring the pot” and for that reason I distanced myself. I regret this because I never became as close to my godson that I had hoped. 

My sister’s husband took his own life, which brought my sister and I much closer again, but it was too late for me and my only nephew and first of three godchildren. He was grown and married and it appeared that he had been brainwashed with unsavory lies told to him by his father. He is now married, and by fate or choice, he does not have any children. 

In February 2019, my husband passed away, and I lost my sister in December 2019. I was given my sister’s car, and my nephew was gracious enough to offer me anything in the house that I wanted. My sister bought and lived in our childhood home. When my husband asked me to marry him we decided to purchase a house rather than a ring.

“There are equitable ways to choose items, which avoid chaotic scenes reminiscent of ‘Supermarket Sweep.’”

The Law Offices of Marilyn J. Belew in Decatur, Texas has the following advice for families: “Put aside any items of significant worth for special handling. It’s only fair that valuable items be appraised. That way, everyone knows what they are trading off as they make decisions. Name what you want. The vast majority of personal items may be easy to divide. What you find emotionally significant and will treasure may not resonate with your sibling. You can easily divide up items that aren’t desired by more than one person.”

There are equitable ways to choose items, which avoid chaotic scenes reminiscent of “Supermarket Sweep.” “Use a system to divide the rest,” Belew said. “Commonly, family members will take turns, each choosing an heirloom item, one at a time, until everything is taken. Decide how to handle the big items. If ‘taking turns’ doesn’t work for the special items that you set aside and valued, you can always agree to sell them at auction and divide the value. Or, the person who wants something can offer to pay its value to the estate for division.”

Ultimately, however, this is a cautionary tale for all parents to make such decisions while they are still living, and to leave a detailed will specifying all valuables. If your mother had two beautiful diamond rings, it would make sense to bequeath one ring to your sister, and the other ring to you. But sometimes life gets busy, and people become unexpectedly sick, and other events take precedence over such matters. Such decisions can be difficult and create tension, of course, but it’s far worse to leave a bitter feud among siblings behind. 

The diamond rings belonged to your mother. They also belonged to your nephew’s mother. If you view it from that perspective — and understand what they represent to your nephew too — it may help you to move on with greater peace of mind. No diamond, no matter how precious, is worth sacrificing your happiness for. Ultimately, we are here for a finite amount of time and, whether we like to admit it or not, we’re all leasing our possessions until the next generation come along.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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