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Widower determined to sue in-laws after the tragic death of his wife. AITA? UPDATED 4X

Widower determined to sue in-laws after the tragic death of his wife. AITA? UPDATED 4X


When this man is furious with his in-laws but doesn't know if he's taking things too far, he asks the internet:

"I'm suing my in-laws after the death of my wife. AITA?"

My wife died suddenly in an accident that critically injured our son. Suffice it to say, along with being shattered, the whole matter has me rather preoccupied.

Her family arrived rather quickly and “took charge” of a lot of things, especially the funeral. It was helpful because my focus needed to be on my son.

I was pretty much a guest at my own wife’s funeral, because although I was there for a brief while, it was on a day when my son was scheduled for a rather serious procedure and so my time was divided.

All the while, I could hear Suzanne (my wife) in my mind telling me to take care of Zach and not worry about the formalities. So I basically just gave my in-laws my checkbook. I’m not complaining about that.

What happened next is different. They wanted to take some of her things, and of course I understood the value in their having a keepsake of their sister/daughter – I would never have said no. But they took everything.

Keep in mind, I wasn’t there – my younger son wasn’t in the house at the time either. The next time I was home, I realized that they basically cleaned the house out of everything they thought was hers, including photobooks.

Hours before this, my wife’s older sister even went so far as to say she wanted to take PJ, my younger son, saying I needed time and that he would be better with them. I shot that down before she ever finished the idea, though I tried not to let my anger show.

In the immediate, my feeling was “I’m not going to deal with this right now”. I simply didn’t have the time or bandwidth to deal with it then.

Not long after, my wife’s sister called asking about several pieces of jewelry, claiming them as “heirlooms” to the family. That prompted me to recall a safe deposit box that my wife kept. I never thought we needed it

When I went to close it out, I found the jewelry (they’re not getting the jewelry), but also among the papers, I found that she had a will. It wasn’t formal, but it was detailed and I later learned that it is enforceable.

Key to note: my brother-in-law, after learning that his wife took such things as our photobooks, demanded that she return them. She refused.

My lawyer has been communicating with me constantly since the accident (there are so many details) and I had already given him the will.

When I told him that my sister-in-law refused to return the property (which rightfully belongs to our children) he told me he would make a written request for all items to be returned to the executor (me) in order that they can be distributed in accordance to her wishes and asked me to make a list. This was over a month ago.

Today, I get a reply from some attorney stating effectively that I had given them permission, and so all items questioned were “gifts”. Are you f-g kidding me? This reply came through my lawyer, wherein he said, “Now we play hardball”. He said he’ll seek an order, though I’m not sure if that requires a trial. I meet with him next week.

I would be passive in the shadow of all this shit if it meant protecting my boys from a family upset, but a line has been crossed. I want my son’s to have a good relationship with their mother’s family – that’s paramount and I would do whatever it took to ensure that. Now we’re about to get into a legal dispute and things are likely to go badly.

My last communication was with my mother-in-law, where she lost her mind on me. We had always been close, so this is all so strange to me. She was making demands that were unreasonable. The call ended abruptly when I explained that the boys were MY children, that I would decide what is in their best interest, and suggested that she not test me. I’m done playing.

I don’t need this shit. I buried the love of my life – I’m dealing with the after effects of the accident, I am doing everything I can to bring my son back to good and now I have to deal with this?

(Sigh) Thing is, people manage grief differently. I get that. I respect that. These are not bad people, they are simply behaving badly. But I can't allow it.

I haven’t told the boys about any of this, yet. I hope I won’t have to. More than once, one of them asked where this or that is, and I told them that their aunts “borrowed them”.

Who does this? Seriously. Anyway, I have nobody to yell at, and I really don’t want to kick the dog (I love the dog) – so I’m just venting again here. Thanks for giving me a place to do that.

And now, OP's update:

After my wife died suddenly, I vented here about how her family came through and took her belongings. The reaction from this sub was more than I expected, and was appreciated - a lot of folks here were pissed on my behalf (the original post is in my history under the same title). Many asked that I update, and so I am.

I had a long and reasonably deep discussion with Suzanne’s mother and sisters earlier today. They speak to the boys (my sons Zach and PJ) on occasion and actively seek the connection.

I haven't spoken to them in a while and haven't proceeded with any additional action since the initial request through my attorney that they return her property (now my children's property).

It was my wife’s older sister’s birthday a couple of days ago and - for all that’s happened - I still made sure to send her lilies. Suzanne sent her lilies every year. I guess I was looking to remain human though all this mess and maybe rubbing their nose a little at the same time. Either way, this was the catalyst for her call today.

We spoke for a minute or two before she asked if I would speak to them all, together on zoom. They were actually standing by as we spoke. So I closed the door of my study and joined them online.

As they popped up on my screen, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t show any emotion at all. This was their invitation, so I would just listen. I had no idea what to expect.

Her mother started the conversation by hitting the tough subject head-on, saying, “We have the request from your lawyer and we withdraw our answer. We want to comply with everything”. Then her older sister added, “And we want to know how we can fix what we broke”.

For the hell I’ve been living over this, the relief of their words was enough. I told them, “Nothing needs to be broken”.

They asked me if I would listen, and of course I said I would. And for a while I did; I didn’t say a word. They were orderly if not rehearsed in their monolog, taking turns and affirming each other.

Her mother explained that they were shattered after losing Suzanne and that they seemed to come together as a pack. “We’ve had some time since those first days and we’ve talked it through and all of us realized that we weren’t thinking”, her younger sister said.

Part of their grief was anger, they explained. They weren’t angry with me, just angry in general. When they were at the house and picking a couple of items to keep, they just kept taking things.

Her older sister explained that they were upset that, as Suzanne's husband, I controlled everything and everything defaulted legally to me. She said it shouldn't have upset them, acknowledging that's just how it is, but that they felt "secondary". This was the only time I spoke, saying, "I never made you feel secondary."

“We just wanted her back." One of them said. "Without that, we wanted everything we could have of her”.

They knew they were wrong, but being wrong only made it worse. They explained it like digging a hole and not being able to get out of it. “So we doubled down”, one of them said.

Her mother became emotional when she said, “I read the inscription on the box and realized that it wasn’t Suzanne’s but that she had it made for you.” She then said she didn't mean to take it. The inscription she speaks of is carved on the inside lid of a small decorative box that Suzanne gave me years ago.

It reads Still and after all. She always said that to me, especially after I would drive her crazy. Whenever I got Suzanne mad, I’d ask if she loved me. She always said, “Still and after all”. Anyone would know that the box means a great deal to me.

The upshot is that my brother-in-law will be returning everything next weekend. Her mother emphasized "everything". He’ll be it driving down and my sister-in-law asked if it might be possible for him to stay over, given that it’s a long ride. I told her that Anthony should always consider this his home. And they should too.

When they finished, it was my turn. I didn’t say much; I didn’t want to say a lot. I only told them how much their decision meant to me and the boys. I explained that I understood everything they said. “We were all out of our minds”, I assured them.

I’m relieved and yet cautious. I need some time to pass, but I’m hopeful that the relationship will heal going forward.

Update 2:

Thanks to everyone for the overwhelming support throughout this issue. All is resolved now, and so I wanted to come back and give the final update (anyone unfamiliar, if you’re interested, the story is in my history under the same title).

My brother-in-law, Anthony, arrived late last night. The boys were already in bed by then. I like Anthony, I always have – he’s a good man.

He was awkward initially, as if he had some reason to feel guilty. He didn’t. I went to work right away at making him feel comfortable and the two of us had a beer outside on the patio.

It was good to talk to him and we spent some time reminiscing over some funny memories. It wasn’t long before we were relaxed. I convinced him to stay just a bit longer today so that we could take the boys fishing. They love their uncle Tony and he loves them. I knew it would make them happy and it did. We had a really great time.

Sitting with him on the patio last night, I could tell he was exhausted from the drive, and so I told him the guest room was all set for him. But I asked him for his keys, because I wanted to bring everything in while the boys were sleeping. He insisted on helping, and so we emptied his little van. True to their word, everything was there.

There were a couple of very obvious items, such as the bell my boys love so much. It’s not all that impressive but the sentimental value is very real. Also, their mother’s little flower painting was another item of great sentimental value, among other things now returned. The space where her painting hung was starkly cold, but now it’s warm again.

After getting Zach ready for the day, both boys migrated to their usual place at the counter in the kitchen. Uncle Tony came out as soon as he heard them and their reunion was really wonderful. This is why it was so important to me to keep her family close. I know they love the boys and I know the boys love them.

PJ noticed the bell almost immediately. He would “hop” excitedly as he went over to ring it. He put two and two together and thanked Anthony for bringing it back, then asked, “Why did they borrow it anyway?” That had been my excuse; I told them that their aunts borrowed a few things.

Anthony just smiled and said, “I really don’t know”. It was a perfect answer because the subject was dropped right away. The boys don’t need to know, and right now, they don’t care.

After the bell, Zach’s first instinct was to turn to the hall to see if the painting was back. When it was, he and PJ went over to study it, as if it were hanging in a museum.

Although they’re only boys, clearly these things matter to them. I glanced over to Anthony and saw a smile on his face that can only be described as “content”. Those who may recall, it was Anthony who demanded his wife (my sister-in-law) return everything.

I changed the focus by riling the boys up with the news that we were going to the pier. They were immediately diverted and that was my plan.

They may notice other items are back where they belong, but I don’t know that they’ll think too much into it. There could be no better solution than that.

I will have all of my wife’s photobooks copied for her family, and the next step is to visit with them, to share Suzanne’s will, and to give them the things she wanted each of them to have. I will go into the visit renewed, having put this moment behind us. In the end, they did the right thing. Forgiveness, therefore, is the correct response.

Update 3:

I’ve vented about this here before and I’ve tried everything I know not to come to this place. But here we are.

Since losing my wife, her family has acted like entitled vultures. Rather than supporting our children, they came through and stole everything after the funeral while I was in the hospital with my son (who was also in the accident).

I tried to settle the matter with them personally, but they ignored me, thinking I’d just let it go. I’ve been 20-years a slave to these people, playing the part that they expect me to play; trying to keep them happy in the name of “family”. We’re all done with that now.

Most of it was resolved when my lawyer sent a demand letter. That action caused them to reach out to me with crocodile tears and apologies and they returned most of the items, but not all. What didn’t come back was trivial, for what I knew at the time, and I let it go.

At the time, I accepted them, tried to understand them, and was willing to let bygones be bygones for the sake of my sons.

Things haven’t gotten better. They came at me for Suzanne’s insurance. I think that was the beginning of the end for me. She had a will for them – specifically for them (she knew they would do this and tried to mediate it).

She was specific to what she wanted to leave them, and I followed it to the letter. Our sons were the only beneficiaries of her insurance policy and I put that policy into trust for each of them; again to the letter. There’s nothing else.

I finally reached critical mass with these people and shut them down. I cut them off – I won’t deal with them any longer and I told them that. In the end I would support my son’s relationship with them, but it will be lacking the trust that a family should have by default.

My sons have picked up on a lot this, and I’ve been frank with them, and they have become indifferent. They know the score, and they haven’t spoken to them much since my elder boy’s birthday. That’s when they took the event to go after him, which was unacceptable.

It kills me, because I’ve known these people most of my life and a part of me still wants to love them. They’re not evil, they’re just so very wrong. They have a mindset that never made sense to me; it’s a lot of what I’ve worked-around all my life with Suzanne and she did too.

She was nothing like them. After Suzanne, they’ve done everything wrong to the point where it’s irreversible.

We don’t speak. But this didn’t keep them from leaving a message on my phone this past week – I will not respond to it. In it, they said that we needed to discuss Suzanne’s affairs. The translation is, “We want money”.

“No”. My last conversation was about my father-in-law’s watch. It took me some time to realize that they had taken it and I wanted it back. I asked for it back. But I also asked them if they planned to gift it to my son themselves, because if so, that would be fine. They’ve said nothing.

I didn’t know about the watch at first. I didn’t think to look for it in the items that were taken and returned. But when I remembered it, I was upset to find it missing.

Before her beloved father died (he was a good man), he gave Suzanne his watch to give to our son Zach on his graduation day. It was a deathbed wish and everyone knew it

The watch, a Rolex, was his prized possession – he bought it in Japan when he was in the service and he was determined that it go to Zach, not only as the first grandson, but for how deeply he loved him.

Suzanne had the watch for a few years before she died. It isn’t noted in any will or anywhere else where the law might find it; it was a verbal understanding. She had possession until they took it. And so there’s a 9/10ths thing going on here –a legal he said/she said.

My sister-in-law admitted that they had it – I was keen enough to record it (whether admissible or not, I have it). She didn’t say which of them was in possession, but that they had it.

When I asked for it to be returned, even offering to pay them for it, I get, “Well, we can talk about that”, as if suggesting that it was a chip in their game. The trouble is that I’m not playing anymore.

My lawyer is a Pitbull; truly a nasty man (excellent lawyer). Ever since his interaction with their counsel over the first wave of nonsense and the demand letter, he was personally pissed.

This lawyer of mine isn’t a friend per say, but we deal with each other almost every day. Before all this happened, I never realized how thick the legal quagmire is following such an event – so many details.

I called him Friday and left a message with his assistant. He called me today; Saturday. He offered to meet me for lunch today; he needs my signature on another item, but we would also be speaking to this petty matter.

He reminded me how I resisted legal action in the past, but that maybe it was time. The upshot is that I’ve green-lighted a lawsuit and he’ll get it rolling on Monday. This action will not only cement my separation from them, but will also express my determination to no longer be fooled with. We agreed that it’s primarily a “message” suit.

My lawyer explained that it will go one of two ways. First, they will settle by complying, which they partially did last time, and that would be a win.

The second is they fight me. If they fight me, I will lose; or best-case gain a pittance of a monetary judgement. “How much do you want the watch?” he asked. Because if it goes that way, he said, “The watch is gone”.

But he was clear to say that we would go forward anyway, adding, “I will destroy them” in a public forum. Given what they’ve put me through, and my sons through, he assured me that “There’s something to be said for that”.

He told me that he’s going to send them a demand letter on Monday (next day delivery – all three, the mother and the two sisters) and give them a minute to reply. “On Wednesday, I’ll have them served”, he said, “We’re not dicking around”. I don’t know if he was being metaphoric, but he said, “I will breathe on their f—king necks like a nightmare”.

“You’ll pay the process server, the fees - but you won’t get a bill from me”. He told me. “This is not complicated and it’s the right thing to do”.

Last year, this would not have been imaginable. To me, everything – every action I made as man was intended in the preservation of family. “You do for family”, is my motto. Typing that just now actually pisses me off – you have no idea what I’ve done for these people and for how long.

I think this is the first month that I won’t be paying the tax and utilities on my mother-in-law’s house – I’ve paid them since Suzanne’s father died – years (it’s part of cutting them off).

There are so many examples and yet for every one of them, I still don’t feel like a sucker. I know I did the right thing. The trouble is that, in return, they did the wrong thing. So now I walk away.

However this goes from here, it’s out of my control and maybe that’s the way it ought to be. It is a mess of their own making. This isn’t a sophisticated case, this is a small claim – but they can’t ignore it – and the rules are very different.

I’ve watched this lawyer on the offense and it’s a scary thing to see, even when he’s curtailed by objections and the trappings of the court. These proceedings will lack some of that formality and he’s salivating. So I’ll turn him lose – I’m ready to do that.

I’ll either get the watch back or I will make an unmovable point. If I win, my father-in-law’s wishes – Suzanne’s wishes – will be respected and my son will have what is his. If I lose, they will be publically shamed for taking that away from him.

Either way, I’ve come a long way this year. I’m no longer the man I was before; I’m not laying down to be rolled over anymore. One of these things needs to happen.

Update 4:

I’ve had a shit-ton of drama with my wife’s family after she died suddenly. It started when they stole her things (now our children’s things) on the day of her funeral and it’s only grown more complicated from there. It’s been a real saga.

What I didn’t know immediately was that they also took a watch that my father-in-law gave to my wife before he died. I’ve rambled a lot here on this subject and I wouldn’t want to put anyone through reading my old posts, so I’ll just clip this little bit in, just so that this update might make sense:

Before her beloved father died (he was a good man), he gave Suzanne his watch to give to our son Zach on his graduation day. It was a deathbed wish and everyone knew it.

The watch, a Rolex, was his prized possession – he bought it in Japan when he was in the service and he was determined that it go to Zach, not only as the first grandson, but for how deeply he loved him.

Suzanne had the watch for a few years before she died. It isn’t noted in any will or anywhere else where the law might find it; it was a verbal understanding. She had possession until they took it. And so there’s a 9/10ths thing going on here –a legal he said/she said.

My sister-in-law admitted that they had it – I was keen enough to record it (whether admissible or not, I have it). She didn’t say which of them was in possession, but that they had it. When I asked for it to be returned, even offering to pay them for it, I get, “Well, we can talk about that”, as if suggesting that it was a chip in their game. The trouble is that I’m not playing anymore.

My lawyer told me from the start that I wouldn’t win. He called the suit a “message” and that he would rip their lives apart, publicly; not only for the watch – but for everything they’ve put me and my boys through. I had reached a point where that was okay.

So they were served and they provided their answer and a date was set, which is coming up soon.

I had two missed calls from my lawyer today, but that’s not unusual – I would just call him back in the morning. We have other business, and I didn’t suspect his call was about the watch (I really haven’t thought about it). I read an email from him tonight which proved otherwise.

He wrote to tell me that they called him today and offered to settle by returning the watch. It was a small claim, so they hadn’t lawyerd-up and he spoke to my mother-in-law directly. He said she was emotionless. He told me that the watch would be sent to his office and he would let me know the moment it arrived. He insisted that it be insured and sent priority and she agreed.

So it’s over. And it’s not the watch – it’s more than that. These are difficult people. My life as Suzanne’s husband was a lot about appeasing them and keeping the peace. I never stood up to them; I only went with the flow in the better interest of family and focused on the good times.

Whenever someone had to give an inch, it would be me and they got used to that. But then they stole from my children and I became someone else. I think they’re figuring that out now. I didn’t blink.

I don’t know what any of this means going forward. I will always hope for a better relationship, if only for the boys, and I’ve wanted that all along and I offered them that.

Zach doesn’t know anything about this and I’m not sure he needs to. He’s making up time and credits because of the accident, but he’s on track and his graduation will come and it will be a spectacular victory. I want her family there, for his sake, and we’ll let that play out for now.

Tonight, I’ll focus on the idea that his grandfather’s wish will be fulfilled. I know that his mother would be very pleased.

Sources: Reddit
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