BEL MOONEY: Should I fight back over my ‘stolen’ legacy? 


Dear Bel

I am so sad, but angry and hurt at the same time. Everything my poor father worked hard for has gone to a stranger. He was on to his fourth wife when he died — and was trying to tell me on his deathbed what was in his will as he wanted to make sure I was going to be OK.

My mother had died five years previously and my sister died the year before my father. He thought he’d had everything tied up financially and I would get a fair share of his five-bedroom property.

Thought for the day 

Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

From our dark spirits.

From Endymion by John Keats (English Romantic poet, 1795-1821)

As it turned out, he had made something called a mirror will with my stepmother and when he died everything went to her. Then she made another will, leaving me and her son 50/50 each of the house.

Sadly her son died six months later of a drink and drug overdose; by then, his daughter (my stepmother’s granddaughter) had started to have children at a very early age. So my stepmother made another will, leaving me 25 per cent and the granddaughter the rest.

I should mention that my stepmother never worked when she was married to my father, so everything they had was down to him. She became very sad and lonely when he died and ill with all sorts of health problems. I rang her every week or she would ring me. I was the only one she could talk to about my father and I felt the same. We became quite close.

Suddenly, one day she told me she was going to leave the house to her granddaughter — who by then was living in a two-bedroom council flat with three young children and no garden. My stepmother told me her granddaughter promised to move into the house and look after her, but the house had to be hers or she’d never get back on the council list.

My stepmother changed her will to leave the granddaughter the house and then died a year later. The granddaughter never moved in. How can something so morally wrong be deemed legal?

I feel so awful that my stepmother disregarded my father’s wishes. How can the granddaughter live with herself? This is eating away at me.

Solicitors keep telling me this happens all the time — and they’re making a fortune out of contested wills. Let this also be a warning to people who re-marry that they need to get proper advice if they want to protect their children.

I wish I could let the bitterness go. I feel sadder for my father than I do for myself. What can I do to get back my peace of mind?

GAYE

This week Bel advises a reader who has been left feeling bitter after her stepmother inherited her late father’s estate and passed his home onto her granddaughter

Curiously, after years during which this column received no letters at all about wills, I have recently published two. The situation you describe does seem totally unfair, as you have no family (a detail in your uncut letter) and your father had every intention of looking after his only surviving child.

In your situation, I reckon most of us would feel eaten up with a deep sense of unfairness and grievance. And it’s no good purists and idealists wagging a finger and saying that money is the root of all evil.

You did deserve to have at least half the value of your father’s house — and I don’t see why that shouldn’t be acknowledged.

Your warning to others is very useful — so please take note, everyone. Make sure your wills are in order and if you are part of a melded family, do please think things through — even to what can be a painful degree.

Always ask the question, ‘What would happen if…?’ and try to second-guess possible scenarios. Money and possessions tend to make people unbelievably selfish and grasping — and it was ever thus.

For you, Gaye, the issue now is exactly as you put it — how to move on from all this. If you don’t, then I fear you will never have ‘peace of mind’.

I hope you are not thinking of contesting the will, because you’re more than likely to fail and it will just prolong your bitterness.

I sense that you’re now as sad and lonely as your stepmother was, that as well as still grieving for your father (a pain reawakened) you are missing that regular contact with her, and that you feel unloved by the woman you became close to — as well as cheated of your inheritance.

I suspect you have been displacing a feeling of being let down by your father, by being angry with your stepmother and this granddaughter who will take everything.

Try to control these feelings — because the mess is nobody’s fault. This is a story about carelessness and people trying to do the right thing (your stepmother thinking she must help her great-grandchildren) but failing to consider consequences.

This is not wickedness; nobody intended to hurt you. At the moment you think the granddaughter is morally wrong — and maybe she is — but we might all ask ourselves what we would do in her shoes.

In time, your anger and pain will lessen. Until you reach that point (and I pray it can come soon) all you can do is look at the rest of your life, perhaps make some changes to create it anew, and be determined to remember your father with love, not blame.

 At 70, am I too old to start a new life?

Dear Bel

I don’t want to be identified please as I could not bear the shame, but I feel I need your help.

I turned 70 in July and have been married for 50 years, with two daughters — but I am in turmoil and need outside advice.

I have always worked with my husband, helping with various aspects of his company. He could always manipulate me and I have no experience of other occupations.

We lost everything and now live in an apartment that belongs to one of my children. I have just realised my husband has had several women throughout our married life — even up to two years ago.

I am now beating myself up over this. He always managed to convince me that I was imagining it or was being paranoid. Not having a great start to life myself, I did not have the courage to leave him.

Early in March, I received an email which was meant for someone else. I have also found naked pictures on his phone which I’m assuming he is sending to other women.

I am really struggling to even look at him without wanting to shoot him — but I blame myself for not taking action earlier.

You are probably wondering why I am contacting you now. Well, I am aware of growing older and in lockdown things seemed to be getting worse. I dread the future.

Am I too late to try to make a new life for myself?

AMELIA

Let me assure you I see no reason whatsoever for you to feel ‘shame’. Many people endure unhappy marriages, even long after they know they should have left.

The longer you leave it, of course, the harder it is — and 50 years will seem a lifetime to much younger people who drift in and out of live-in relationships.

Or perhaps you are ashamed of yourself for becoming the ‘victim’ of a man who should be older and wiser than to leave naked pictures of himself (oh dear . . . revolting thought) on his phone. Can he really think this is attractive to women?

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

You feel trapped and blame yourself. But thank goodness you have enough spirit left to want to punish him, too. Who can blame you? You look back over your life and see yourself as the meek, dependent lackey of a man who ‘manipulated’ you throughout and covered his infidelities by ‘gaslighting’ — that is, insisting you were delusional all along.

The trigger for this email was reaching that milestone birthday and being stuck with your husband during lockdown.

And the current uncertainty (will they, won’t they imprison us all again?) is enough to make you miserably insecure. Now you long for the courage to make a new start, but know perfectly well that to do so will require more of you than (perhaps) has ever been asked before.

My first question is whether your daughters have any inkling of how unhappy you are. I would like to feel you can confide in one or both of them.

Since the flat you are living in belongs to one of those daughters, you need to get her on side to convince her that you want your husband to move out.

I suggest you keep a record of what your husband says and does, and any incriminating evidence you find.

And I would study the Relate website to find out more about their services. You can talk to a counsellor on the phone or via email, and I believe you will find this helpful in clarifying your thoughts about past, present and future.

You ask if it’s too late for a new start — and of course I shout: ‘NO!’ Please imagine you will live for another 20 years and tell yourself those years are yours — precious time to be used well.

Imagine being free of the man who makes you so unhappy. Imagine standing tall at last and living the life you want. Is that possible? Yes. Will it be hard? Yes. But are you ready to seize happiness before you die? Yes — because you wrote to me and know it is time.

And finally…In dark days, we need art to nourish us

It was strange to take a week off yet have no holiday. I just skulked, missing writing this column, reading emails, and wrestling with the twice-yearly swap of summer to winter clothes — which was even more dispiriting than usual.

I thought of getting older with those clothes and anticipated winter . . . and, yes, felt quite low.

One of our dogs became ill, and my poor dad had a new health problem, too, which involved three hospital visits . . . So we cancelled our much-anticipated two days in St Davids, Pembrokeshire. No wonder my insomnia becomes worse every week.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Hooray then for the ‘big day out’. We managed two (taking the poorly chihuahua with us) and it made me so grateful for small mercies. In ‘normal’ life, one can book a holiday (according to budget) without too much thought. Now, you have to think twice (at least) before doing anything.

So off we went to wonderful Compton Verney, near Warwick. The handsome 18th-century house has been turned into an art gallery — and we feasted our eyes on the work of the great German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder, on Chinese bronzes, on early British portraits, on delightful folk art, like people starving offered a slap-up lunch. The sun shone, too. Oh joy.

Two days later, we drove to Tisbury, near Salisbury, where the London art gallery Messums has turned a magnificent 13th-century tithe barn into an arts centre. The sun shone again, Sophie the dog was feeling a bit better after antibiotics and again we were grateful to be nourished by beauty.

I put it like that quite deliberately, for both the thankfulness and the beauty felt crucial to surviving these difficult times.

On gratitude — a massive thank you to all who wrote an extraordinary number of supportive emails after my Saturday essay decrying the current culture of fear. I can’t reply to each one, but I felt as nourished by your rebellious verve as by art!

 

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