Dear Annie: Family tensions and legacy after loss

Annie Lane

Dear Annie: My brother-in-law passed away 10 years ago, and tragically, my sister, his wife, passed on two years later, leaving behind their three boys: “Tom” (14), “Freddie” (17) and “Dennis” (22).

Initially, my wife and I offered to take in Tom, the youngest, but the boys wanted to stay together. Dennis, the eldest, had just finished college and was starting a job in his chosen field, and Freddie was getting ready to graduate from high school. So, with the financial support of my parents, their grandparents, they were able to remain in their family home, which was about an hour away from the rest of us.

After my father died, my mother, considering the needs of her grandchildren who were marrying and starting new families of their own, decided to gift them each funds. She told the grandchildren that she wanted to give them money now so they could enjoy it. Each grandchild received $10,000.

As my mother aged, I became her primary caregiver, often leaving my own family to attend to her needs. A few years before her death, she was saddened by the lack of visits from Freddie and Dennis, who frequently visited nearby relatives but rarely came to see her. Upon her passing at age 90, I inherited her entire estate, as stated in her will. All six grandchildren were invited to choose items from her home, which they did.

However, I recently received a letter from Freddie and Dennis inquiring about their share of the will. When I explained that the will left me with the remaining estate, they responded with a harsh letter. I’m unsure how to proceed or whether to respond at all. Any advice would be appreciated. — Hurt Uncle

Dear Hurt Uncle: I think you have two hurt nephews as well. They lost both their parents at a very young age. I don’t think there is any way to proceed other than with kindness and empathy. You received the entire estate and you didn’t lose your parents at a young age. Try to support them emotionally, and who knows, as your friendship grows, maybe you will be inspired to take on a fatherly role and help them out financially as they make their way into young adulthood.

Dear Annie: I’m writing in response to the letter from “Missing My Things,” the woman whose husband kept throwing away her belongings. My husband and I have a similar issue, to a lesser degree. He is a hoarder, not of trash, but he fills all available space with items so that we don’t have room to use our space. I am a neat freak. Tidiness helps me cope with my anxiety problems. I felt suffocated by his mess. I felt like I could not function. I began to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.

When I complained angrily, he heard it as moodiness, because he thought his behavior was reasonable. When we had been married several years, after counseling, I was able to communicate how it makes me feel, and he made an effort to change his behavior.

We have managed to make a life in which we both feel comfortable and we minimize fighting by using simple geography. He is free to hoard as much as he wants in the garage and in the room he uses as his office, and I am free to tidy the rest of the house as much as I like, as long as I put his items in his office rather than throwing them away.

In fact, I started by asking for just one room with no stuff, and little by little he made more rooms available. My suggestion for “Missing My Things” would be to establish these types of boundaries for both parties and to try to get her husband to talk about his needs. — Neat Freak

Dear Neat Freak: Thank you for your inspiring letter. It shows that when you put in the time to work on your marriage and come up with a compromise that makes both of you content in your own home, good things happen. Congratulations on a job well done.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.


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