Dear Richard

Two good friends of mine, siblings in their 50s, had a really brutal affair. Their father recently passed away. Fifteen years ago, he had met a woman 20 years his junior.

He fell in love with this woman and soon agreed to marry her, promising to leave her his considerable fortune, “provided she never put him in a home.” Her townhouse, however, was sold five years ago, and it was recognized that the proceeds were to be left to her two children.

A year before his death, his wife indeed placed him in a care home, then flew away for a series of vacations. She wasn’t even with him when he died. Now she has control of all of her estate, but there is no sign that the money in the house is going to the children.

She told them that she had to compensate for the nursing home fees and the cost of renovating her house in the country, but considering her late husband’s considerable wealth and six-figure pension, I find that to be low. convincing. Besides, it just wasn’t the case.

My friends had a difficult relationship with their father, a determined but damaged man whose own childhood was partly spent in care. The promise of some kind of financial stability was offered by him, and understood by them, as an act of atonement.

Being nice people, they don’t want to take legal action against their mother-in-law – should they, or at least urge her to keep their father’s promise?

–Anne, Cheshire

Dear Anne

It’s really the business of a lawyer, not a dying uncle. If your friends’ mother-in-law controls all of their late father’s estate, it may mean that she left everything in her will, or simply that she is the executor, responsible for carrying out his wishes. subject to the practical arrangements for homologation, etc.

If so, she legally holds the hand of the whip. Whatever promises your friends’ father makes – verbal commitments, assurances given during a handshake, nods, winks, or anything else that is not unambiguously written – would have little weight. in disputes like this. Even a promissory note will most likely be replaced by a properly drafted will.

If it’s the latter (or even if it’s the first and your friends suspect some hardship or mental incapacity, or whatever), then there may be legal action against their mean mother-in-law. But it is probably an expensive process with no guarantee of success.

My advice to your friends is to see a lawyer and work things out, providing as much evidence as possible for their claim. Did their father give them his assurances in writing – a letter, card, text or email? At least that would give a lawyer enough to work on. But if the promises were exclusively verbal, I don’t keep much hope.

I would suggest they try to appeal to the best of nature and widow’s sense of fair play, but if what little you say about her is true it may turn out to be even rockier ground.

I have included your letter today in part as a salutary warning to others. If you are promised an inheritance and you fear that a third party or an intruder will steal it under your nose, follow the advice of the Roman era, as valid today as it was 2,000 years ago: in scripto pervenit. Get it in writing.

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