Dear Margo: Grief and Money

How can one accept an inheritance in sad circumstances? Margo Howard’s advice

Grief and Money

Dear Margo: My father passed away a few months ago. When I started dealing with his affairs and doing the required financial tasks, I realized he had left me an estate worth $1.5 million. My problem: I think about the money and almost feel like it’s tainted. I don’t want $1 million; I want my father. I’d rather he were still here, father to me and grandfather to my toddler. Logically, of course, I recognize that he left me a tremendous gift, but emotionally, I’m having a hard time accepting it. And I do recognize that my feelings will seem absurd to most, especially in our present economic situation. I’m hoping that you will be able to give me some advice that will help guide me forward. — Melancholy

Dear Mel: You are experiencing great sadness at the loss of what sounds like a wonderful man and a loving father. Let us apply the poultice of reason, however, to your thoughts. This situation is not one in which you had a choice. No one put the question to you: Would you like your father to live, or would you rather have the money? A lifetime is finite, and ever was it thus.

As for the inheritance being tainted, that would only be the case had your dad been a killer for hire or something similarly unlawful. I am fairly sure he earned this money in an honorable way, so there can be no taint. Neither did you wish him gone so you could have the estate. (That would not have made it happen, but it would be a cause for guilt.)

Give yourself a break, and try to look at things realistically. I can tell you that when the grief diminishes — and it will — you will feel more comfortable about having the nest egg your father wished for you. — Margo, acceptingly

When Telling Has a Price

Dear Margo: When I moved away from home, my mom moved to another state that was closer to where her sister lived. I am going to visit my mom, but she and her sister have not been speaking for a while. That is because the sister’s husband made an inappropriate advance toward my mom, which upset her greatly. She didn’t feel right about keeping such a thing private, in case he was acting like this with other women. She eventually told her sister, whose response was that she did not believe any of it, and she hasn’t talked to my mom since. She’s also tried to keep her daughters out of my mom’s life and is clearly in denial about the whole thing.

My mom has tried to work things out, but to no avail. I will be going to visit and, of course, would like to see my cousins, but I’m guessing they will invite their mother to come over while I’m with them. I don’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings by seeing her, but I also don’t want to perpetuate this whole thing by refusing to see her. I’m torn as to how to deal with this, especially since we were all so close for so long. — Living with an Estrangement

Dear Liv: If your mother’s been cut off, I wouldn’t be so sure your cousins will see you, let alone bring their mother. If I am right, then you’ll have nothing to deal with! If there should be a get-together, just speak of neutral things. As for your aunt’s being in denial, this is not all that unusual. If she allowed herself to believe it, she’d have to confront him or throw him out. It is clear she would rather stay peacefully married and think your mother made the whole thing up. — Margo, realistically

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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21 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  You are deeply sad at the loss of your father.  The money is not the issue here, it is your grief which is natural, normal, and if nature plays out properly is something that cannot be avoided…simply lived with and worked through.   Margo has beautifully explained why the money should not be a source of guilt for you. If it would make you feel better about the money, and if you don’t have an urgent need for it, put it in  a conservative investment account and forget about it for now.   It will be there if you or your children need it and if you never do can be passed on.   Whatever you do, do not do anything rash like *give it all to charity* or relatives or think that by spending it away on stuff you don’t need or even want just to get rid of it is going to make you feel better.  There will be a time in your life when that money will be just what your father intended it to be for you…a way to make your life easier…because he loved you…and wanted to take care of you.   

    LW#2:  I’m sad for your mom who probably moved close to her sister thinking they would be company and comfort for each other as they grow older.  I really don’t know what else she could have done other than tell your sister about the husband’s behavior.   I’m not one to overlook people’s hurtful ways towards those I love so I can fully understand why you don’t want to see your aunt and while your cousins may or may not include their mother if they invite you to their homes, given the rift, I would not want to be around said aunt if I were you.  Here is a your cousins and invite them out to lunch or dinner…your treat…mothers not included.  They can choose to accept your invitation or not and by their actions you will then know the lay of the land.     

  2. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: I would guess something deeper is bothering you that you haven’t mentioned or realized yourself. Perhaps you feel guilty about something that happened once & feel your dad would not have left you that inheritance if he had. If this is the case, just remember that no one is perfect.If it truly still bothers you in a few months, put in in trust funds or college funds for your toddler & children to be.

  3. avatar Mjit RaindancerStahl says:

    LW#1 How I envy you, that you have parents worth more to you than a hefty inheritance. I hope you can accept that your father has done what he can to see that you and your family are taken care of, now that he’s no longer able to care for you personally. Perhaps taking a vacation with your children to visit places you went with your father might help you remember him happily.

  4. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    Nest egg? More like fully fitted bird house.

  5. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – Is very similiar to a letter discussed yesterday on the thread.

    In yesterday instance the spouse was molesting instead of “cheating”, but it was a betrayal none the less. Andthe common thread that connects both letters was a woman immobilized in a state of denial. Two women that for reasons only they know, that chose to believe the man in their lives over the female caught up in his betrayal.

    Margo is absolutely correct, this sister has chosen to live in a Scarlet O’Hara “Fiddlely dee…I’ll think of this tomorrow” mindset of denial, so she won’t have to think about it or deal with it. She can still have her man and if it means the loss of a sisterly relationship, so be it.

    However, as is the case with both these letters, the important question is “why” they chose to believe the men over the females? Is this sister that made the accusation, is she prone to lying? Is she mentally unstable and known to be the family member that fantasizes at times? We all have one of those types in our family. If this is the case, she did the right thing by cutting her out of her life. Or did she do this because of internal insecurities, issues of jealousy and not wanting to be alone?

    The upside to all of this is (and trust me I know of what I speak given where I work) this husband will show his true colors and be busted by his wife. Men that cheat or open themselves up to cheat, ESPECIALLY with their wife’s family (that is called brazen) he will indeed do it again, and again and again. And sadly it may take this sister being insulted by his disrepect enough times for her to get the message and then file for divorce. When that happens, and maybe only then…..she can come around and rekindle her relationship with her sister. Apologies all around, tears and lots of hugs. My guess is that is the more logical outcome.

    Letter #1 –  The money her father left her should be viewed as the core of who he was. That is the way I look at it. The generosity he showed in leaving her that money….that amount of money should be looked at as who he was. With each purchase made using it she should smile and remind herself even in his death he is still with me, taking care of me and my child. “Thanks dad” should be the quiet comment she makes as she pays each bill or splurges on something for herself and daughter.

    As cliche’ as some say it is, there is a lot of truth to the expression “those we loved are never really gone if we keep them in our memories” It’s only when we let go of thinking about those that pass away that we truly allow them to….. pass away.    I say let the money stand for something. Donate some to charities in his name. Start a small scholarship in his name. Better yet, invest in a memorial park bench engraved with his name in your community. Your town will thank you for the investment AND you and your child can visit it often and remember him.

    This money was a blessing. I hope this letter writer respects that.     

    • avatar wendykh says:

      One correction…. the mother in yesterday’s letter believed it. She just didn’t care and blamed her daughter instead of her husband. Big difference.

  6. avatar martina says:

    LW1 – I am sorry for your loss and truly feel for you.  My father passed away in January and I am still grieving but then I was responsible for his care and am dealing with a lot of guilt.  Of course you would rather have your father than the money for both you and your child but you need to think of it as his way of still being there for you.  Hopefully, that will give you some comfort.  If that cannot bring you comfort then, you may want to consider counseling.  I have found that this helps.  And the pain of grief does diminish over time – you just need to give yourself time to grieve.

    Prayers are with you.

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: There’s no cause for feeling “tainted.” He loved you, he’s left an estate which puts you in financial security; that’s his continued love. 🙂 The only “tainting” would be if you went off half-cocked crazy and blew the money; it seems you’re not going to do that. Continue enjoying life, remembering your terrific father, find a wise financial adviser (unless you’ve inherited your father’s adviser) and keep up the nest egg secure for his grandchild.

    L #2: Easier said than done, but simply go and see what transpires. Don’t try and play “peacemaker” unless your heart is really in it. Seeing you might lessen aunt’s resentment towards mom. Keep focus on your mother, be open/receptive to cousins and aunt. If they don’t come around, that’ll be emotionally difficult but perhaps time will sort it out and there’ll be a reunion.

  8. avatar Brooke Schubert says:

    LW#1-Grief makes us feel all kinds of emotions, but you have nothing to feel guilty about.  If it would make you feel better to make a generous donation to his favorite charity or yours in his name, do so.  Rest assured though, he intended that money to give you and your child a good life.

    LW#2-I agree with Margo.  I seriously doubt your cousins will want to see you and if they do, they probably won’t bring their mother since they know there was a falling out.  Problem solved!

    • avatar mac13 says:

      While I basically agree with you and Margo about the advice to LW2, I have another thought to offer. Maybe the aunt will relish the opportunity to “tell her side of the story”. How your crazy mother made up stuff trying to create drama. That was my first thought reading the letter.

  9. avatar Grateful Live says:

    LW#1:  I understand your feelings of guilt, and you made me feel better by sharing yours.  My first husband died several years ago and I remained close to my MIL.  When she died, I too felt guilty at receiving an inheritance from her. 

    As others have already commented here, look at this inheritance as a blessing – one last way that your dad has been there for you and shown you how much he loved you.  USE the money to 1) secure your future; a loving father would want to know that his daughter would be safe.  2)  Enjoy it – if there was a place he loved to visit or always wanted to go and you might enjoy visiting, do so!  3)  Use some of the money to make a donation – to a charity or cause you both supported, a cultural organization he and you enjoyed, to his or your own college.  In that way, you’ll carry on something he believed in and share the love you and he felt with the world.

    The guilt you feel will lessen as you work through your grief.  For now, go with it, accept it as part of your grief, and just know that “this too shall pass.”  I think from your letter that your dad has left you much more than mere money – and his love will never die.  He will always be with you in your heart and your memories.  I wish you peace.

  10. avatar susan hiland says:

    LW1: I can’t add too much more than what other people have suggested. But I think you need a good financial adviser to help you invest this money, put it in trust or whatever. Your dad loved you so much he wanted his baby to be happy and secure in her future and he has assured that will happen. He can’t be here to hold your hand through this rough time of his passing but he can take care of you from his grave. Let him be there for you. At this point I suggest putting the money in some sort of account that gains interest and forgetting it. You need to work through your grief at sometime in the future this money will be the blessing for you that he meant it to be but that can’t happen today while you are grieving so hard.

  11. avatar Julp says:

    LW#2:  My family has an estrangement over something similar.  The wife, who everyone said was in denial, stood by her husband that he did not do anything over the line with the a close relative of wife.  When the relative maintained her story and said wife should leave husband or get counseling, the wife and husband cut off communication with her entirely.  It took years of my being neutral but listening to finally realize the truth of the situation.  The husband, who came from a touchy feely family, had thought he was just being family friendly.  The relative, not a huggy type and male-uncomfortable, thought he was feeling her up and suggesting sex when he said they should have lunch to get to know each other better.  He went a little too far in friendliness and she went a little too far in paranoia.  Sadly, while the rift between other family members has been healed by the truth, the two women are still not speaking and probably won’t.  Relative still will not see what really happened even with her feelings validated (it was scary to her) and still believes husband is a closet cheater.  Husband and wife have been very happily married for almost twenty years now.  You should always look at the entire picture before casting judgement and definitely before saying something that will injure/upset another.   

  12. avatar Hellster says:

    Margo, it was either your esteemed mother or her equally esteemed sister who gave the following advice to persons in LW#2’s situation. When dealing with extended family members who are feuding with each other, let each know your plans and that they are welcome to join in, and allow them to make the choice whether or not to attend.

    This especially goes for people who claim they won’t attend social events like weddings if a certain other person will be there. Go right ahead with your plans for the event (or visit, or activity) and let those to whom it might present a problem deal with that problem themselves. It might help them see how ridiculous they are being (but don’t count on it). Don’t let yourself be held hostage by the bad behavior of others.

    Additionally, Julp has a point. LW#2 didn’t mention what the “advance” consisted of. An off-color joke to some people is tantamount to being ear-raped to others. Neither of these women can be spring chickens if there are grown daughters involved– in that case, the husband might have been displaying symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s, or other physical problem. Sad that sisters have to be estranged, but they are grownups, and it is their own choice.

  13. avatar Lila says:

    For Melancholy, I know exactly how you feel. My Dad was a child of the Depression, which made him very tight with money and he spent very sparingly. When he passed away, my brother and I received a tidy sum (not near the figure of your inheritance, but still – pretty generous). And yes, I would trade it in to have my Dad back. It’s been over 2 years now and I still miss him terribly.

    But you know – what he left us was financial security. Security that his family did not have during the Depression. He saw his own parents lose everything, and lived long enough to see the economy rise in the 50s, plummet in the 70s and 80s, rise in the 90s and plummet again starting with the dot-com bust and going right into the subprime lending mess. He knew that the ONLY way to have any hope of security (there are no guarantees) was to have a good financial cushion that you build and manage for yourself. My brother, and Hubby and I, still live modestly. If we didn’t, the money would be gone in no time, and then I really WOULD feel horribly guilty. Dad went to a lot of effort and sacrifice and self-denial to save what he did. The way to honor that is to keep the security he left us. The way to dishonor it, is to act like a drunken idiot and blow it all.

    I suspect that your Dad was much the same. You were surprised at the amount; that tells me he lived modestly. I suspect he amassed that amount for his own and his family’s financial security. And now he has made you and your family financially secure. Good for him, and good for you! Pass on this life lesson to your family. Teach the value of delayed gratification, of controlled spending, of personal responsibility. Honor his efforts by managing his bequest wisely. Nothing to be guilty about; rather, be proud of your Dad.

  14. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#2: It may be that the aunt’s daughters find the whole situation ridiculous. My mother (80) and her oldest sister (87), have not spoken to each other in over a decade. Although they never got along, and the basis for that, if my suspicions are correct (and based on everything that my mother, and her now-deceased middle sister quite unconsciously revealed, I am certain that they are) is a disgusting, sad, tragic and horrible story of abuse and betrayal at the hands of my grandfather of his wife and daughters, the foundation of the current loathing is money. My oldest cousin forged my grandmother’s and aunts signatures on certain documents about a year before my grandmother died, and stile a significant quantity of money from her accounts in my aunt’s name (apparently my aunt knew nothing of this). Then my grandmother became incapable of caring for herself, and instead of the family making an intelligent, conscious decision, she went to live with my non-driving, dysfunctional, hysterical and barely responsible aunt. She should have been in care, not in a home, as she was completely incontinent, refused her meds, wasn’t coherent or rational, and my aunt was not emotionally, physically or mentally able to take care of her. Of course, my mother and other aunt “couldn’t take her”, but blamed their sister for her decline and death, plus the theft of the money.

    Fast forward a few years, and my aunt reached out to my mother, probably to make amends, through her middle daughter and her son, who have always kept up contact, and who informed us that it was their other three sisters who schemed to steal the money, and most of our grandmother’s possessions. My two cousins got nothing out of this, and wanted nothing, as they detest their own siblings….but they would like to see my mother and their own at least speak before they’re dead. It just ain’t happening. My mother will NOT speak to my aunt, or even her blameless niece and nephew.

    So, we’ve all given up, but the cousins (two of them, three of us) speak. I suspect, as I believe LymBO pointed out, that this goes deeper than just a pass by your uncle. It could be your cousins are sick of the craziness too. Inform them of your plans, and see how that plays out…but you can’t fix what’s wrong with the older generation. When I figured out the truth of my mother’s background, I realized that the one most at fault and least damaged was HER, and she is the one who refuses to acknowledge her father’s cruelty and abomination, her own role in constantly degrading her sister, and how damaged her sisters…and herself…and her mother…really were.

    • avatar Lila says:

      “You can’t fix what’s wrong with the older generation.” AMEN TO THAT. My Dad saw a lot of stupid crap in his parents’ and grandparents’ generation, and I have had the joys of a bunch of stupid crap from my parents’ generation on the mother’s side. The kids in each case – the cousins were caught in the middle as children but many years later, as adults, have tried to rebuild bridges between themselves, that their parents long ago burned. Not easy, since so many years of shared experiences were lost to that idiocy.

      So I’m with those who advise: just go, and see what happens.

  15. avatar MB T says:

    Dear Meloncholy,

    Both my mother and father have passed in the last few years and I miss them both greatly and think of them daily as I am sure you do to. Unfortunately, there was not much, or rather anything left after their passing. I am sure if they could have, they would have left me some inheritance too.

    If you wish, you can donate the money your father left to my very needy cause. Being a single mother and not able to make the income I was previously able, hasn’t made the past few years any better.

  16. avatar bingo says:

    Melancholy, my father passed away last year, 2 weeks after I got married to the most caring/intelligent/beautiful women our earth has been blessed to receive. Less than a month after that I had to re-deploy to South West Asia (for the eighth time) in 11 years, I have been pretty fortunate myself over the years and have been moderately succesful, all that being said I would give every penny I have every made (and my wife as well) for another chance to tell my Dad how much I loved him. Sometimes (this is a great thing)  I’m not sure who loved him more, my family, his friends, or my wife. The money that was given to you is a gift from him to ensure your child and you are fincially secure. How you choose to spend it is of course your choice, but I agree with most of the other posters, sit on it, put it in a trust fund/savings account, etc. and come back to it. It won’t go anywhere and will be there if you ever need it. Let some of your grief diminish, and then choose what to do with it, as possible choices from the above postings recommended….. I know my father ALWAYS put his family before any of his own needs and wants and is smiling down on me making sure my team and I get home safely from one more deployment. Stay strong for him and your child. This too shall pass.    “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those that would do us harm”   -George Orwell

  17. avatar impska says:

    LW1’s feelings about her inheritance are extremely common. She should know that she is not alone and may even wish to go to a grief support group or two.

    There’s at least one popular financial adviser who recommends that you place your inheritance money in a savings account and don’t even try to think about it for a full year – and certainly don’t do anything rash with it.