Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend’s Family Thinks He’s a Thief”

Earlier this year my boyfriend’s father committed suicide. At the time, “Jake” and I had been together about a year. Jake’s parents divorced a few years ago and his father’s family likes to blame Jake’s mother – they claim he never got over her — for the suicide even though his father remarried in October of 2014. I guess getting remarried to a woman they all love counts for nothing?!

One of the most difficult things – more difficult than dealing with the death – has been how Jake’s family has betrayed him. Jake entered the military in 2003 after graduating high school, and they seem to be angry at him for leaving home. After Jake’s father died, his family manipulated the situation and were quick to jump into probate – right after Jake left the state. (We currently live in CT, and he was in SC for a month before any legal action took place – his grandmother is named executor in the will, which she hid for several weeks). They’ve accused Jake of theft (for taking his stuff that had been at his childhood home, for taking his family’s guns — including those that belonged to his mother and her family — and for taking his father’s watch) and they have tried to spread rumors that Jake is an all-around bad guy, yet they deny it when we try to confront them. Although Jake’s parents had been divorced for several years, his father never re-decorated, and his family let the new wife take whatever she wanted from his father’s house – including stuff we wanted (a washer and dryer and a couch).

I know Jake would like to have a relationship with his dad’s family, but it seems impossible now based on how they’ve treated him. He feels so hurt and betrayed. I want to tell off his aunt so badly, but I’ve held my tongue. How can we air our grievances in a manner they might be receptive to? Or how can we move forward? How do we deal with how we’re being portrayed to extended family members? — Pissed At His Family

You know, honestly, this is really more Jake’s problem than yours. You’d been his girlfriend for about a year when his father died. Yes, you’re a couple, and you live together, but it’s not like you’re part of his family yet in the way you would be if you were married or had been together for many years. Your job here shouldn’t be airing your grievances or dealing with the way you’re being portrayed, but supporting Jake. And when it comes to supporting him, maybe flaming the fire of angst he feels isn’t the best route to take. Instead of focusing on stuff you wanted from Jake’s father’s home (a washer and dryer and couch) and getting angry that they went to, you know, the wife he shared his home with, be a shoulder for Jake to cry on, an ear to listen to him vent, and a pillar to hold him up when the weight of his loss and the pain of betrayal he feels threaten to force him down.

I’m not well-versed enough in law to know how things work when a loved one dies and an executor is appointed, but I have a hard time believing that it’s kosher to just help yourself to whatever you want from a dead person’s home, even if you believe the deceased would want you to have said items or if you believe those items are rightfully yours. There’s a protocol that needs to be followed, and, when it’s not — when someone who isn’t an executor of a will goes into someone else’s home (even if that home belonged to his father) and just takes things without explicit permission, that IS stealing. Even if some of those things were his from childhood, they weren’t in his possession. Jake should have waited until he was appointed those items or at least until he was granted permission to take them.

All of that said, this is a terribly sad situation and I’m sorry Jake is feeling bullied and estranged from his father’s family at a time when it seems they should be coming together and supporting one another. Shock and grief can make people behave in ways they wouldn’t normally and I hope in time and with compassion and forgiveness on all sides, the family can find their way back together, or at least find peace with each other. You can help this along by not engaging in negativity toward Jake’s family or flaming the fire of his anger. Seriously, the issue with the used washer and dryer and couch? Let it go.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

30 comments… add one
  • avatar

    shakeourtree May 20, 2015, 9:12 am

    Ugh, this happens so much, and it usually ends with the family being all pissed off at each other. The death of a loved one is not a free-for-all to raid their house! I’d like to see what the will says. If grandma is the executor and because he had gotten married so recently, I’m guessing his new wife isn’t in the will. So I don’t understand why the LW is so offended that the wife got a couch and a washer and dryer! They should be happy she’s not taking the majority of the estate all to herself, like if the dad had died without a will. And honestly, even though your boyfriend’s intentions might be 100% pure, it does kind of look bad if you haven’t been around much and then show up after a death and immediately start cleaning house. It just gives a bad impression.

    Reply Link
  • mrmidtwenties

    mrmidtwenties May 20, 2015, 9:14 am

    LW, my deepest sympathies for your boyfriend’s loss. However, what your boyfriend did was stealing. Taking things without discussing it with other family members , particularly the executor of the will is stealing. When my father passed away, every possession was discussed with my brothers, mother and my father’s family, you never know different people’s sentimental attachment to an item.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    RedRoverRedRover May 20, 2015, 9:15 am

    Yeah, I was gonna say…. he wasn’t legally entitled to that stuff. He DID steal it. That’s why his family is accusing him of being a theif. He might feel that he’s morally entitled to it because it was his dad’s. But that’s not how the law works. He should have waited until the will was sorted out. For all he knows, the dad specifically left those things to someone else.

    Reply Link
  • kare

    kare May 20, 2015, 9:15 am

    It always amazes me how much families fight over a dead person’s possessions.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Anna May 20, 2015, 9:19 am

    Really? Washer, Dryer, and a couch? Idk, LW the way you’re talking about this is super tacky. Wait until the will is sorted out before you start divvying up his fathers property. And even thought you’re together, you should probably leave this for him to figure out. Nothing grosser than a significant other telling the child of a deceased parent what they should be getting.

    Ick.

    Reply Link
    • Raccoon eyes

      Raccoon eyes May 20, 2015, 12:30 pm

      I second The Ick.

      Reply Link
  • juliecatharine

    juliecatharine May 20, 2015, 9:21 am

    WEES. LW, this is a sad situation that has precisely nothing to do with you. Repeat after me: Jake is not entitled to anything that is not in the will. YOU are entitled to nothing at all. FFS, a washer/dryer and a couch?!? Buy your own damn furniture and appliances.

    Reply Link
    • Raccoon eyes

      Raccoon eyes May 20, 2015, 11:12 am

      juliecatherine, I like how you think. This is two days in a row that I TOTALLY 100% agree and think you succinctly narrowed the answer down to the very bottom line here.
      *
      Because I am not so succinct myself, I would like to add- LW, you have NO reason to be sticking your nose in the business of others here. While I can appreciate standing up for those you love, and tossing in a healthy dose of familial friction that has apparently been simmering for quite some time, WHATEVER- it doesnt give anyone (and specifically you, since you are the one seeking the advice here) to carte blanche do “what is right” according to their own personal beliefs. There is a probate system set up for the basic purpose of distributing an estate so that it doesnt turn into a free-for-all grab. (Also, grandma didnt hide sh*t. Probate is public record [upon my understanding, I dont ‘do’ probate work], or at the least the basic stuff is, like named executor/s. Nor did anyone throw the estate hastily into probate- how/when an estate goes into the probate system is statutory.) What Im saying, pretty much is WWS!
      *
      One more thing- youre an adult (presumably), so none of this ‘telling someone off’ horsesh*t. Grow up. Your life is not a movie. If everyone involved here acts a little more their age, I think every single person would be better off. You have not iron in the fire here, so stop inserting yourself where you dont belong. The only place you belong is next to your BF, as a support/sounding board/etc.

      Good luck, and Im sorry for the loss that you all are going through.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    SpaceySteph May 20, 2015, 9:21 am

    Yeah, um, he DID steal those things. I can see him thinking that some stuff from his childhood was his to take (things with sentimental but not monetary value, like photographs), but those guns are both valuable property and not even remotely his (according to your description, they weren’t even his father’s but his mother’s, which means maybe the will didn’t even have the right to give those away).
    It is really sad, because this isn’t the first family to fall apart surrounding the death and I’m sure Jake could use the comfort of family right now. If you were to do anything, I would encourage him to mend the relationship with his family and get past the feeling of betrayal. I would even go as far as to offer the stolen property back, along with an apology for getting ahead of himself by taking them in the first place.
    And as for the washer, dryer, and couch? Let it go. I get the feeling that everyone is wrapped up in the *stuff* to avoid confronting their grief. Consider encouraging Jake to see a grief counselor, and maybe even to invite some of his other relatives to join him.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    jlyfsh May 20, 2015, 9:29 am

    I can see where Jake feels like he was entitled to those things. And especially considering that the loss was unexpected and from what I remember on the tails of an expectation of moving and working with his Father at his company. But, he unfortunately not knowing what the will said should have talked to someone in his Father’s family or at least tried to find out if he had a will and who his lawyer was. I know it’s probably not something that was even remotely on his mind at that time. Knowing where he is from I can imagine the dynamics of the town/people involved. But, people know when someone is making someone out to be a bad person when they’re not. I’m sure they have a lot of people shaking their heads and saying Bless His Heart but when they go home they talk about how awful it is the way they’re treating Jake.
    .
    I also agree with Wendy that you need to stop thinking of them as ‘our’ grievances and start thinking of them as ‘his’ grievances. It’s one thing to back him up and another to add to the fighting. I would move forwrad by supporting him in whatever he chooses to do. Jake will probably not ever get an apology that he wants from his Aunt. But, if he wants a relationship with his Grandmother and the rest of the family he might have to put up with her. Really the best thing he can do is to prove them wrong through his actions. Be the bigger person and live a happy life. And learn to let go of things you can’t change, like the washer/dryer and couch.

    Reply Link
  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom May 20, 2015, 10:04 am

    The items that belonged to Jake that happened to be stored in the house were his to do with as he pleased. The rest, he needed to wait for the will to see if they went to him. Guns that belonged to his mother’s family might have been abandoned by his mother and so by default belonged to his dad. If so, he had to wait for the will. If his mother had wanted them she would have gotten them already. The furniture belonged to the couple living in the house, even if originally purchased with the former wife. The second wife had more claim to it than Jake.

    Reply Link
  • Guy Friday

    Guy Friday May 20, 2015, 10:13 am

    Everyone is right; it’s, legally speaking, theft, because everything in the home belongs to his father until the will specifies otherwise. And, depending on the value of the items, it may even be a felony. So if you want to help Jake, here’s what you tell him to do:
    1.) Hire a probate lawyer and explain what he took
    2.) Have the lawyer write a certified letter to the executor of the estate explaining that these were the items that were taken, that they were taken in error because he believed it was OK to take them, that he apologizes, and that he would like to sit down with the executor (along with the attorney) to discuss the will and what he can and can’t take.
    .
    Seriously, this is what lawyers are for: to be dispassionate third parties who can focus on the law instead of emotion. Get the lawyer, and let the lawyer worry about navigating the will.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      Seriously? Seriously! May 20, 2015, 5:00 pm

      Totally disagree about the theft. If everyone thinks it is their own property, they don’t have the mens rea for it to be theft. Which i guess is your whole point of explaining what his thought process was, so i totally agree with that. Plus, he should say that he was acting as a bailee of the watch but hadn’t taken title to it. Which is actually true, given that he took possession of it so it wouldn’t disappear, rather than to “own” it.

      If I were LW and her BF, I just would stop fueling the fires of everyone’s anger by calling everyone’s actions crimes and the people who did it criminal, because it is just escalating the situation, when it all can be worked out in probate court, or via bringing tort claims in regular court.

      Reply Link
  • something random

    something random May 20, 2015, 10:13 am

    Just chiming in to express my sympathies to the letter writer and her boyfriend. It’s sounds like the father committed suicide just a few months after his wedding. I’m not surprised the son didn’t consider the new wife and uncles and aunts would think him taking the guns that had come from his long-divorced mother’s side, his own personal childhood belongings, and taking one sentimental item, a watch, to remember his dad would be stealing.

    There is a proper order to things but most grown children don’t usually see uncles and aunts and grandparents as being closer to their own father then they are, and don’t think that such extended family is going exert some kind of authority over the situation.

    It sounds like the grandma is old, and maybe the family is just trying to help her enforce the will. This death was painful and unexpected, and I’m sure there are lot of confusing feelings and guilt and blame. Suicide does that. Maybe for some of the family feeling defensive and protective of the new wife (who family may have had more recent interaction with) is their way of feeling like they are doing right by the deceased.

    Again, I’m so sorry for the loss of your boyfriend, lw. How nice that he has someone like you who loves him and feels protective and defensive towards and around him. I’m sure its hard watching him hurt. But I know you can put your own feelings aside and so you can be there for him. Good luck.

    Reply Link
  • Lyra

    Lyra May 20, 2015, 10:14 am

    To me this sounds like years and years of family drama coming out. Obviously there are a ton of hurt feelings all around for whatever reason, and that’s something that only the family can deal with. As Wendy pointed out this is Jake’s problem, not yours. By all means be there to support him and offer advice, but it isn’t *your* grievance; it is his to deal with. Like others have said, he *did* technically steal that stuff since it wasn’t his to take. The fact that his family is getting so worked up over material possessions indicates that there is a lot more going on below the surface…deeply rooted issues that you probably don’t know about. I’m sure this is very difficult to witness, but assuming your boyfriend wants to maintain a relationship with his dad’s family, it may be a good idea to just back off for now and let all the “stuff” in your boyfriend’s dad’s house go. Relationships with family aren’t worth the fight over material possessions.

    Reply Link
    • something random

      something random May 20, 2015, 10:58 am

      I agree with you, Lyra. Technically, this was stealing because the boyfriend didn’t wait for the will (although it sounds like he might not have even known about it) or discuss it with the wife before doing it. If the boyfriend had been operating on all cylinders he would have followed a more proper decorum.

      But (and I’m only guessing here) most functional extended families would probably be little more compassionate given the circumstances. If they were operating on all cylinders, they probably wouldn’t be labeling the bereaved son a “thief”, technically true or not.

      The best thing the letter writer can do is be a good listener, non-judgmental, and willing to support the boyfriend requests (not assume she needs to fix the situation, or determine the validity of the boyfriend’s feelings, or be angry on his behalf).

      That’s what I think, anyway.

      Reply Link
      • Lyra

        Lyra May 20, 2015, 11:27 am

        Oh I completely agree. There’s definitely something else going on here in the extended family that raised my eyebrows. That’s why I recommend if the boyfriend wants to maintain a relationship with his father’s family, washing their hands of it and just letting the “stuff” go. Maybe once this is more settled they can work out family issues. Overall a VERY difficult situation all around though. 🙁

        Link
      • something random

        something random May 20, 2015, 11:37 am

        Link
  • avatar

    LW May 20, 2015, 10:17 am

    The suicide was devastating on many levels – Jake lost a father, and the man he considered to be his best friend, and it also ruined the plans he had made for his own future. We were supposed to be moving into that house in April; Jake was going to work with his father, and I was gonna figure out a job. We were going to rent the fully-furnished house, while his father and his wife were going to be moving to a bigger home so her parents could live with them. Jake is the one who wants the washer/dryer and couch, not me (for what it’s worth), and they might be symbolic of trying to cling to what was supposed to be – or he really likes his mom’s home decor – or it’s his way of fighting back – I’m not sure.

    One of the upsetting side effects of the suicide has been the cruelty his father’s family has shown – his aunt physically attacked Jake’s mother & he had to be the one to restrain her & then calm her down as soon as we arrived in town for the services – they also threatened to call the cops if his mother came to the wake or funeral (she respectfully stayed away despite wanting to be there to support her son and to say her goodbye); his grandmother kicked us out of her house that same night because he was using the f-word; his aunt and grandmother have spread lies about him around his hometown and it seems like they’re trying to make everything harder than it needs to be.

    I know they have lost a son and a brother, and are mourning, too, but it’s difficult to be sympathetic. The way this family has been treating each Jake just boggles my mind. He has cut off contact with them, and does not reciprocate. I had met Jake’s family a few times, and had been really looking forward to getting to know them all better when we moved closer to them; it’s startling to see this side of them.

    99% of the stuff he took from his father’s house were the items he owned – items like his camera collection, pictures, his important paperwork, and tools he purchased, but had been storing in his father’s garage. The family seemed to not understand that the items were his property. They also accused him of stealing from his father’s business and personal bank accounts, because they couldn’t believe the amount of debt the father was in – thank goodness for bank statements proving Jake didn’t steal. The only item that could be considered stolen is the watch – the one his mother gave his father and had great sentimental value to him; he fully believes that if he were to give it back, he would never see it again and he doesn’t want to let that happen. The guns he took belonged to his mother and her family, and she asked that she get them back because she predicted the family would make it impossible otherwise since her experiences with them have been very negative.

    The will (the one the grandmother hid for a few weeks) states that Jake is the sole heir. His grandmother was listed as executor, and heir only if she survived Jake. Jake’s lawyer is working on getting probate back from his aunt so hopefully it will all work out relatively quickly. As much as I would love to let them know what I think, I know it won’t accomplish anything, and could ruin any chance of a future reconciliation between Jake and his family. I’ll do my best to just listen and provide support (while venting in the forums, if need be).

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      jlyfsh May 20, 2015, 12:46 pm

      It’s easy to get caught up in someone else’s pain, especially when it’s someone you love. But, staying out of it is really the best. I can imagine someone like his Aunt and how she acts and I can imagine it being hard to hold your tongue in front of her. But, remember you’re doing that for Jake. Not for her. His family sounds like they’ve had issues that even Jake might not be privvy to from long before he was born. Him getting an attorney sounds like a great step. I hope for his sake the family is able to make amends amongst themselves.

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      Sunshine Brite May 20, 2015, 12:53 pm

      It sounds like secrets are a norm in his family and in his father’s life. Suicides affect a huge ring of people usually in this negative way unfortunately. Follow your plan to remain supportive but remain out of it at the same time.

      Reply Link
    • TaraMonster

      TaraMonster May 20, 2015, 1:33 pm

      It sounds like the family is upset that Jake is the sole heir. And in that case, anything his father’s wife took would actually be stealing. A crime that was facilitated by his grandmother who intentionally hid the will in an effort to redistribute his property. I imagine the hypocrisy, coupled with his father’s family’s treatment of his mother just compounds the level of betrayal Jake is feeling as he grapples with unimaginable grief. But everyone else is right that it would be unwise to fan the flames by getting involved. I understand the impulse to want to do something -anything- that would make the situation better, but you already are, just by being there for him and supporting him. Just keep that up; it’s be best thing you can do for him.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        Seriously? Seriously! May 20, 2015, 4:54 pm

        Actually, not quite, about anything the wife took is stealing. One of the things they beat into you when studying for the Trusts and Estates section of the bar is that you “cannot screw your spouse in death.” There’s something that’s called “elective share” which is a certain percentage of the overall value of the decedent’s estate which the wife is entitled to, or she can choose the amount left to her in the will (pre-nups change this a little, but it doesn’t sound that that matters). So even if the father left the whole estate to his son, that doesn’t cut out the wife.

        Also, just while we’re on it, I highly doubt that any of these actions would be a “crime” — if everyone thinks they are taking their own property, they don’t have the mens rea (remember elle woods?) for it to be a crime. There are a lot of torts which it might be (maybe conversion), and that can be worked out by the lawyer to get the property back, but not something that anyone will probably go to jail for. (But who knows? don’t take my word for it).

        Link
      • avatar

        Ange May 20, 2015, 6:14 pm

        I was wondering about this. I feel for the widow about now, she must feel stuck in the middle of this massive drama with a bunch of sharks circling her house trying to empty it out from underneath her. I hope she is treated with some dignity through all this she has also lost a husband and now could be in danger of losing her house and possessions, just think about that LW.

        Link
      • something random

        something random May 20, 2015, 7:15 pm

        I feel bad for everyone involved. Honestly, the closest kin to the deceased are the wife and son. I think the girlfriend (and really all the other relatives) should take a step back. Now that there are lawyers and courts involved there really isn’t any point in continuing to debate who has rightful claim to what. It will get settled.

        I’m kind of surprised by how unsympathetic people around here have been towards “Jake”. When I have had kin die tragically and unexpectedly sometimes people, in their grief, aren’t really thinking about legalities and formalities. When my husband’s mother died she had a sister who thought she should be involved in going through all of the stuff. It was intrusive to my husband and his sister to have to manage that expectation at such an emotional time, but I don’t think they ever held it against her or thought the sister was a greedy thief. She wanted to smell her sister, see her clothes, look at her photos, connect to the 40 years worth of memories, many of which were very sad.

        This was a second marriage later in life. The loss of a spouse so soon and abruptly is very tragic. But given how brief their time was together, I’m not surprised the son didn’t consider that his father’s new wife might have boundaries around her home that were different from his belated father. Given the short time the deceased was married, I’m not surprised the son didn’t really consider that his dad and his new wife had a lot time to jointly acquired possessions and property, especially if the house was adorned with things left by his mom and his dad was planning to leave it behind and move to a new space with his wife. That doesn’t mean the son was right to go in there. Or right not to consider that the widow might not want him removing things. But it does sound like he only touched things that he truly thought were his. Except for the watch. Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but my own dad just gave one of my brothers a ring he used to wear throughout my childhood. It’s shocking how much memory we can attach to small things like that. I can’t imagine how devastating it would be to lose a parent to suicide and then to have kin accusing me of theft and greed. It would be a challenge to come up for air, and depersonalize such an insult.

        While I’m sure the letter writer must feel some sympathy for the widow, of course her loyalty and energy is being devoted to supporting her boyfriend, who is surly still very emotional and grieving. I think Wendy was wise to council the girlfriend to avoid stirring the pot and getting more enmeshed in anyone else’s perspective.

        Link
      • avatar

        Ange May 20, 2015, 10:33 pm

        We don’t know how long the dad and wife were together though, it might be a new marriage but they could have had a few years under their belt together. I guess what really got my goat was the LW saying they really wanted the furniture and washer/dryer. Maybe the woman currently using them wanted them too?! In the end I do feel really sorry for Jake but this letter is so predatory sounding I kinda forget about him in the middle of it.

        Link
      • something random

        something random May 21, 2015, 6:34 am

        It’s true that the widow deserved to be treated with compassion. But frankly I still think its very odd that the family “let” the new wife take what she wanted. Why would they have any say about it? Shouldn’t the new wife and Jake have been the ones to discuss and settle things together? Sure the grandmother was the executer of the will, but the will was not updated to include the new wife. I think it was over-reaching and wrong for the grandmother to put herself in the position of making things “fair”. I think it was wrong for the grandma and the sister to decide to play judge and jury. Again, when people die, family’s sometimes revert. Grandma is thinking in the role of the mother who is in charge of her child. Sister is thinking about her brother who she has known either her or his entire life. Brother was divorced for awhile so sister might see herself as being primary family and think she has some say on who is allowed at the funeral. I think when people go on power trips and get territorial when someone dies it’s almost never about the value of the stuff. I think the washer/dryer/couch are surface issues, although I’m sure they meant a great deal to the poor grieving widow on a practical level as well.

        I, too, hope Jake is able to reach deep and treat this woman his father loved with dignity, compassion, and respect through this heartbreaking process.

        Link
    • kare

      kare May 20, 2015, 5:53 pm

      I would just distance myself from the drama as much as possible. Although if I said “fuck” in front of my mom or grandmother, I’d probably get a pretty stern talking to. Some people won’t tolerate what they perceive as disrespectful language in their house. It sounds like his family is looking for a scapegoat for their grief, but that’s not your issue to deal with. Hopefully with time they will realize life is too short for such behavior.

      Reply Link
  • something random

    something random May 20, 2015, 1:08 pm

    It sounds like you are managing the situation the best way you can. Death can sometimes bring out a family’s fault lines underneath their surface. It is sad so many of them have so much anger and so little trust in each other.

    As hard as it is to just stand there and watch them treat someone you love so poorly when he is so vulnerable, it is best you don’t try to take the wheel here. Don’t create more storyline that Jake will end up having to process and manage. Try to depersonalize this as much as you can. As pointed and specific as this ugly behavior seems, I can almost guarantee it has little to nothing to do with Jake and probably has a lot to do with issues you may never know about. I’m sorry for your loss. Hang in there.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    MsMisery May 21, 2015, 11:38 am

    I’ve never seen people turn shittier towards each other than when there is a death in the family. If you can, document EVERYTHING and let lawyers sort it out.

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment