The Vine: May 7, 2014
I have a question for your readers about jewellery inheritance.
It has always been my assumption, based on the precedent set within my family, that a mother's jewellery passes down to her daughters after her death. The only real example in my lifetime, though, was my maternal grandmother's death. I understand my mum received her share of her jewellery at the "sorting out the estate" stage relatively soon after death. Her father was still alive at that point and I believe was the executor of Grandma's will. Mine is not a large family and, apart from my dad, the boys are in the younger generation, so I don't know what would happen in that case, but I had always assumed a boy child would receive either items of similar value or a cash equivalent, as my uncle did when Grandma died. But the items of jewellery go to the girl/s.
I'd be interested in your readers' thoughts on this because I am discovering that the men in the family (namely, my dad) have a very different mindset about this than the women.
To try and keep the backstory short, my mother died very unexpectedly almost two years ago. Her will left her estate to my father and when he dies, the combined estate will be split between my sister and I. There are no other siblings, half- or step-, so it is about as straightforward as it can get. Like lots of little girls when we were little, we would look at Mum's jewellery and try it on and she would say that it was for us when she died. In particular, she had two rings that she inherited from her mother and it was always understood between the three of us that I would have the yellow one and my sister would have the purple one. We had no idea of their value or even what the stones were, we just thought they were pretty and loved the idea of having something of our long-dead grandmother's.
As it happens, Mum did not specify anything about her jewellery in her will and I can only assume she expected Dad would give it to us, or let us work out who gets what piece.
We understand there are some quite valuable pieces that he bought for her and to date, they are being kept where they have always been kept. About six months after her death, my sister and I were spending the weekend with Dad and we decided that since Dad had not mentioned Mum's jewellery at all, we would ask him if we could have the yellow and purple rings to remember her by. I figured that since he had not bought them for her himself perhaps they held no real significance to him, so it would be a safe bet to at least ask. I decided I would accept a "no" since legally, they belonged to him now, but it was important enough to me that I would at least make my case. It took a considerable amount of explanation to get through to Dad that these rings had enormous sentimental value to us and he eventually conceded to let us have them, only after saying a rather pointed "well, if that's all you're after…" which has not been forgotten.
By asking for the rings, we must have come across as money-grabbing bitches out for whatever we can get from him and that was not at all our intention. He has previously said if there is anything of Mum's we wanted we should ask, but the examples he uses are things like her food processor, because he would never use it. Needless to say, we have not raised the issue of her other jewellery since we figured he is not ready to let it go yet and it's perfectly safe where it is. Plus, we are not money-grabbing bitches and we have our own food processors.
My position is that legally, the jewellery is part of her estate and it is now part of Dad's estate so we have no claim on it until his death. This sits quite comfortably with me, but less so with my sister, even though she agrees with me in theory. I have stipulated to both of them that 1) he knows where her jewellery is — and there has been a bit of doubt about one particular favourite ring of Mum's; 2) it is kept securely and is insured properly; and 3) should he decide to sell it or give it to someone else (i.e. a new wife) he give us the courtesy of discussing this with us first. My feelings of the kind of woman who would accept the dead wife's jewellery as a gift are, well — let's just say if I was offered my partner's ex-girlfriend's jewellery I would be quite insulted. At this stage, that is not on the cards. The only thing I really wanted was the yellow ring and I have that now. As you can probably tell, there is a LOT I'm not saying about the last two years, but that is not what this letter is about.
Our grandmother (my dad's mother) recently asked about whether we had received Mum's jewellery and was quite shocked that we had not. In a separate incident, my dad's stepmother also asked about it and expressed the same sentiment. Yesterday, Dad made a passing comment that he "needs to do something about Mum's jewellery at some point" with absolutely no mention of it being divided between us. For the record, I don't believe he is evading the issue to avoid starting some kind of bitch fight over it between my sister and I, because that would indicate a level of sensitivity that I have learnt over the past two years my father does not possess. Nope, I honestly believe it has not occurred to him that an option for Mum's jewellery is to give it to us.
So you can see the disparity between the way the women think about it and the way he does. And my question for your readers is — is the sentimentality behind a daughter inheriting their mother's jewellery just a girl thing? What do guys think about it? The guys I know don't seem to have a view either way and say it's up to Dad to do with it what he wants (which is of course true), although they do express an ick factor over giving it to a new spouse and seem to figure if the daughter wants it then just give it to her. But in my family, it has been made clear there is a difference between asking to have it and having it offered to us, as the Ring Incident attests. I'd be very interested in what you and your readers have to say.
I'm being more specific about jewellery in my will
I'm sorry for your loss.
I wouldn't say that it's a gender issue. The disparity, to me, is between how two mothers-in-law think about it and how the widower does, and he may think — not consciously, probably — that every thing of your mother's he gives away, every item that finds another home makes her death more final, or is a betrayal. The things of the dead are not just things, and our ways of thinking about them have their own logic.
What I think, overall, is that what (you think) you aren't saying is what's really going on here.
that would indicate a level of sensitivity that I have learnt over the past two years my father does not possess
the kind of woman who would accept the dead wife's jewellery as a gift are, well — let's just say if I was offered my partner's ex-girlfriend's jewellery I would be quite insulted. At this stage, that is not on the cards. The only thing I really wanted was the yellow ring and I have that now. As you can probably tell, there is a LOT I'm not saying about the last two years, but that is not what this letter is about
I mean…first of all, "late wife" and "ex" are not equivalent. Second of all (but not unrelated), if it's not on the cards, why make the comparison at all? I get the distinct feeling something, some betrayal of your mother, is in play here that you haven't mentioned. I don't know what it is, I don't know if it's a real violation of the family (i.e., he cheated on her), or he's not acting the way you think he "should," or you just feel alienated from him because he doesn't grieve the same way you do — but the yellow ring was not "the only thing you really wanted" by some stretch, or you wouldn't be writing.
And the lot you're not saying is exactly what the letter is about, but you didn't say it, so I can't really help. What you really want to hear is that you're right, but I can't really assess that, and if I could — so what? I don't think that gives you what you need. You want your father to guess your heart; he's failed at that, as most people will, so if you think he's being a shit about the jewelry or just in general, or you need him to be there for you more substantively in your own grief, you need to go on the record with that.
All I can really tell you for sure is that, whatever the jewelry is about for you, it is not about that for him, and he can't read your mind. Think about what's actually going on here, because it's not in this letter.
Tags: etiquette the fam