Should I Tell a Young Relative That Her Grandmother Tried to Swindle Me?

Oct 26, 2022 · 311 comments
Paul (San Diego)
Didn't you notice the neighboring property with the dog poop and the large number of dogs? How about your realtor not being aware of it? You lovely neighbor knows about the poop and the barking - your other neighbors seems to support her unofficial dog shelter. Expect to get push back and not much support for trying to clean up this property - 'her work is invaluable' .....
Anna (Brooklyn)
Letter 3: Tell me you are wealthy without telling me oyu are wealthy. Only those who with an embarrassment of riches tend to loathe conversations about money....welcome to the world of the non-wealthy....money is a real concern or topic. In fact, if more people were open about their income, we would have a better idea of fair wages to ask for.
Laura (Florida)
@Anna I grew up in a home where the money was tight. We kids were taken care of but my parents went without a lot of stuff. My mother taught me that it is vulgar to talk about money.
Belzoni (Los Angeles)
@Anna I know what you mean, but I don't really think that's what the letter writer is getting at. I didn't get the sense that his monocle plopped into his champagne glass because someone broke the taboo of the blue-blooded. I think he means that people are essentially gossiping about others but under the cover of "talking about finances." I totally get where Joe is coming from. A slightly more egregious example that really illustrates my point comes from a coworker of mine who is a little....off? She will compliment a coworker's outfit and then immediately ask "How much did that cost?" That kind of thing. And I work at a school with a lot of affluent people, but also many students who are on financial aid and are trying to keep their lack of money off the radar of others'. Those are folks who also want to avoid the topic of money and are definitely not wealthy. There's a time and a place for money talk. I would not agree that it should NEVER be a topic of conversation. But really - a time and a place...
Susan (USA)
@Laura Us, too, in our family. How I wished I had heard something, ANYTHING, about how the world of money worked. We don't do our children any favor by not discussing how the world actually works. That goes for sex, relationships and money. Real estate too! The world will not end, and nothing bad will happen; I learned that the hard way.
fg (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Wow. It seems clear that the "complainant" stole her sister-in-law's half of the house and sent her packing, due to some kind of weird action by the poor woman's husband in a will that she tried to rectify. The man probably had dementia and his poor family suffered for it while this woman wants to assuage her own guilt. I'm surprised that there wasn't some kind of protection in the law that gave joint ownership to the wife of this man who gave away the roof over her head. She probably had no decent legal representation if any at all. So sad.
HobbitMom (New England)
Joe, who complained that talking about other people's money is "common now" might want to pick up a Jane Austen novel. "He makes five thousand a year!" Sorry, Joe—there's nothing new about this.
Leslie (Arlington Va)
It's never in good taste to talk about other peoples money unless you are 100% excepting of the fact that others are talking about your financial status (or lack of) as well.
Jack Frost (Tel Aviv. Israel)
Sounds to me like the man who dated your sister is looking for a double conquest. As a guy who's been around the block a few times, I strongly suspect this guy took advantage of your sister's young age and took advantage of her. Now he's trying to bed you as well. Your sister is not trying to hurt you. She's trying to keep you from getting hurt and she doesn't want to have a conversation with you comparing date notes. Stay far away from this bad news guy. And thank your sister too.
DejaVu (Boynton Beach, Florida)
Living in a Senior “55 and Over” community, the amount you pay for anything, particularly services ranging from cleaning services to landscapers to house cleaning services is always asked, only second to people rudely asking about everyone’s complete medical histories. My wife finds nothing wrong with most of this, and we constantly disagree with the appropriateness of these questions, with me being the one who wants to share nothing. Gossip is endless, and privacy seems to be lost completely. I am always tempted to rudely say something to the questioner, but it is a good way to lose friends and anger my wife.
Meg (Austin)
Not talking about money has long been a way to suppress groups of people from earning an equitable amount. The silence isn’t so much about being polite but allowing ghastly inequities to continue. Women in particular are encouraged now to share salaries to ensure they are earning what they deserve. I hope we do continue talking about money. However I do recognize in this instance that the tone of those conversations may have been judgmental or gossipy.
RM (NY)
To the person with the dog problem: move. If ur renting break your lease. Sell at a loss. This neighbor will never listen to reason. Even if the code enforcer tries it will never be enough.I moved once because of a barking dog and never regretted it. And we sold at a loss.
Lee (Tampa Bay)
15 dogs in a dirty unregistered shelter is called animal hoarding. Call the authorities immediately.
Ron (Cleveland)
Swindled: It seems natural to me that Swindled's brother-in-law would want to leave his half of the house to his wife, her sister-in-law. Why does Swindled feel she was being swindled when her brother-in-law changed his will, if indeed he participated in the purchase of the house? I'm also curious to know what Swindled did to the sister-in-law after she and her husband won their lawsuit? Swindled seems to be the offender, not the offended in this story.
Val Challah (Massachusetts)
I concur and am super curious as to what they were successfully able to sue for.
Marilynn Bachorik (Michigan)
Regarding the response to Sister: "I wish you the best of luck in dating her ex." Someone your sister dated for about 2 weeks in not an ex. Ask your sister why she objects, and if she can't give you a cogent reason, date the man if you want to.
Mary (PA)
@Marilynn Bachorik A few long ago relationships are very precious in my memory. Although I have no desire to renew them, it would be disconcerting if one of them turned up as my sister's new boyfriend. It wouldn't be the end of the world, but I'd prefer she not. My sister is someone who wouldn't care a bit about my feelings; I doubt she would think to ask. I kind of like it that the letter writer cares.
Katy (Seattle)
@Marilynn Bachorik That was my instinct, too, but the Ethicist makes a good point. High school is often the time when people have their first sexual experiences. Dating that person may be associated with some very important and formative memories for the sister. There might be more to this than just "they dated for two weeks."
Bruce (New York)
Great Aunt. Nothing new here. It happens all the time in just that way. Admit it. Telling the granddaughter the story is to make you feel better. It has nothing to do with her, I assure you she doesn't care, nor does she need to hear. You have the need to tell her so please stop trying to make it sound altruistic.
Val Challah (Massachusetts)
I concur. It sounds like LW’s misery wants company.
aacat (Maryland)
@Bruce And I don't think the LW would come off as the hero of the story -far from it.
B (USA)
Joe- Three things to keep to yourself ALWAYS unless close family or friend that you’re sure of: politics, religion, and money. No exceptions.
Margie (Virginia)
@B My house rules due to my memories of long ago Sunday dinners with relatives screaming at each other over the roast beef. (I also can't eat roast beef either BTW): At the table no talk of money, politics, or various religious interpretations allowed.
Ellen (NYC)
@B - thats the definition of a bubble ... I talk to my neighbor and cousins with who I disagree about religion, money, politics. And by doing so I have to be nice, and listen, and maaybe try to learn why they think what they do
maryea (Tallahassee, FL)
Oh, I feel for the nextdoor to dogs writer. But these are things we need to learn b4 we buy. Best o' luck!
Barbara (NY)
@maryea Maybe the real estate agent (if one was used) was in cahoots with the neighbor so that the dogs would be inside when the house was shown?
Astrid (Nebraska)
Re: the swindling grandmother. My mother had a sister who hated her, and who relished spreading lies in our small community about my mom, innocent. Auntie grifted Mom, too, at one pointed. Mom was a naïf, really. When mom developed dementia. I reached out to auntie, whom I had only seen at family weddings, funerals etc. over the years, and rarely, at that. Auntie wanted an aunt-niece relationship with me and was quite clear about it. Her surviving child was rejecting her. But first she flamed my mom to me, tell me all the things done wrong to auntie; casting inappropriate aspersions on mom, words that could get a person arrested. Some relationships should be allowed to fade into history. I never contacted auntie again, and I heard nothing else about her until I read her obit - in which only her child and the third sister were mentioned - not mom, not anyone else in the family other than my grandparents. Letter writer: as hard as it can be, let it go.
worldsgreatest 🕵️‍♀️🕵🏻‍♂️🕵🏻‍♂️ (fetus)
The truth matters but not in all circumstances. Closure matters sometimes but not all the time. No harm in asking someone out for coffee. I do it all the time to people that are homeless. Just coffee. Your intentions should be pure and organic, not artificially flavored. In the end the truth isn’t always black and white and your closure may not be closure for the other person. Keep listening for the sound of one hand clapping. In the meantime, let your love be infinite. There is truth in your love, and it is what ultimately matters in the end.
GG (USA)
I used to work peripherally around animal rescue people. Some seemed deeply disturbed and were keeping tons of cats and dogs in small apartments. In one case, I even walked back my plan to give a kitten to a well-known city rescue organization because the woman in charge made me so uneasy. (“You’ve got somethin’ that people WANT,” she told me over the phone as she audibly dragged on a cigarette. “A seal-point Siamese. I’m also gonna ask that you give me $150.”) All this to say, true-blue rescue people are incredible and I salute them, but there’s a fine line between animal rescue and animal hoarding, and I’ve seen folks “rescue” beautiful, healthy, easily adopted purebreds from shelters the same day the animals arrive. The dog-rescue lady may not be half the saint she thinks she is, in other words. She’s also a terrible neighbor, full stop.
Pedna (Vancouver)
The Great Aunt wants it all, she is not satisfied by just winning the whole house. She got the house while her sister-in-law got nothing. Now she wants the love of the grand daughter too. One does not win love of people by bad mouthing their elders. While I know the weaknesses of my elders, I do not want others to bad mouth them.
B (Westborough, MA)
Just watch out for the backlash when you confront the dog lady about the negative repercussions of her "dog kindness."
Kay day (Austin)
Re the ex-boyfriend, beyond the possibility of assault, there’s also the possibility that something weird or really awkward happened re sex or even just talk of sex (Romeo might have told his friends XXX happened, even if untrue.) But further, there are permanent reputational and relational effects when dating in a small town. Both sisters dating this guy, even 10 years apart, will reflect poorly on the women, even though it shouldn’t. It won’t reflect poorly on the guy, that’s why he’s willing to ask out sis#2. In a small town, memories are long, and drama is short, so people might twist this into an embarrassment for sis #2. This is unfair, but the older sister may just be looking out for the younger sister’s long-term reputation and ongoing friendships/romances in the small town.
akamai (New York)
LW 1 absolutely must tell her niece. Why should this poor woman not know the truth about her evil ancestors? This is no-brainer. Love love love this column.
Connie (Patchogue NY)
@akamai You are condemning a women and declaring that the "truth" be known based simply on the word of the letter writer. There are two sides to every story. The truth usually lies between them.
GG (USA)
LW2: A very wise person once told me to never ask questions I don’t want answered. In other words, if “no” isn’t a fair response, were you honestly seeking your sister’s blessing/opinion in the first place? I’m not trying to be all condescending here, BTW; I’d probably have done the exact same thing you did, and would be as puzzled and annoyed as you are right now. It’s a tough one.
Val Challah (Massachusetts)
I don’t think she was asking permission, but rather just telling her sister as a fact, and is genuinely surprised at the response.
Kat IL (Somewhere Near Chicago)
Sister: ask your sister her rationale for not wanting you to date her long-ago ex. There could be a range of reasons from, “it’s just not right” to “he beat me and date-raped me.” If it’s the former, go for drinks. If anything even close to the latter, run.
Lillie (California)
HS fling, consider this guy might have been a real jerk to your sister. He could even have been violent or made her feel unsafe. Talk to her to better understand why she doesn’t support you dating him.
Lindsley (California)
LW1: It’s possible that her sister experienced unwanted sexual attention or even assault from this man during their short dating period. A valid reason for her to be unwilling to give her blessing to dating him. Could’ve been her reason to move away, also In any case, I agree with talking again with her sister, with an open mind and heart, to see if it was a traumatic event that she never shared with anyone, and that’s why she is reacting so strongly.
Stephanie (NY)
@Lindsley I thought of that, too. My next thought was that if I were the sister and had been sexually assaulted or otherwise badly treated, I'd not say "No" with no explanation; I'd warn my sister off.
Astrid (Nebraska)
When I was in high school, some 54 years ago, my so-called best friend "stole" the young man I had been dating (he was guilty of it too, of course, but I blamed her) - at my own party. That was the first and last time I cared about such things. He ended up in jail, but she had a happy ending with a fine husband (not "my" guy) and two really great children. Her mother, who never liked me, well, we ended up being near and dear to each other when I used my skills, that daughter didn't have, to rescue her from an elder abuse situation. So, BFF and then-BF gone, but I became friends with the mother who previously didn't like me. I think that's a pretty happy ending, too.
cirincis (Eastern LI)
I am surprised to see no l comments about the sister’s letter, but think Philip is partially wrong. If the LW and her sister are in their 30s and the other sister briefly dated the guy in question in HS, that’s at least 12 years ago! I think she should kindly remind her sister of that fact, and tell her she’s going to date the guy unless sister can offer any specific reason not to—then wait to see what she has to say. Either the answer is provided for consideration (and the asking sister only has to consider it) or the window closes and the LW is free to do what she likes. It’s really unreasonable to interfere with what could be an opportunity at happiness due possibly nothing more than a sister’s hurt feelings from childhood. Even if the old BF and the sister once were intimate: so what? If it happened it was more than a decade ago.
Stephanie (NY)
@cirincis I like this approach because the LW is not in the position of asking permission, but is still giving an opening for the sister to warn her of potential problems.
Mrs. S. (Harrisburg, PA)
Lw3- I have a different opinion than many. A friend manages a licensed, inspected, and funded animal rescue. Unlicensed animal "rescues" run by people with "good hearts" are detrimental to the legitimate rescue world and are often an excuse for animal hoarding. I can't imagine animal health or adoptions thriving under the conditions you describe. Check with state and local laws to see how many animals are permitted per household. Check to see if your neighbor is licensed as a rescue. Proceed from there if you wish, knowledge is power. You can always use the info to discuss with your long residing neighbor and perhaps it will spark a solution.
Mrs. S. (Harrisburg, PA)
Lw3- I have a different opinion than many. A friend manages a licensed, inspected, and funded animal rescue. Unlicensed animal "rescues" run by people with "good hearts" are detrimental to the legitimate rescue world and are often an excuse for animal hoarding. I can't imagine animal health or adoptions thriving under the conditions you describe. Check with state and local laws to see how many animals are permitted per household. Check to see if your neighbor is licensed as a rescue. Proceed from there if you wish, knowledge is power. You can always use the info to discuss with your long residing neighbor and perhaps it will spark a solution.
Kat IL (Somewhere Near Chicago)
Agreed. Animal shelters should be licensed, clean (not smelly) and be able to minimize the dogs’ stress and subsequent barking. Your neighbor’s situation sounds like a terrible environment for the dogs. Better than being abandoned in the streets, perhaps, but not what they deserve.
Deborah (California)
LW3 A friend who lives on an island once told me that it requires picking your fights carefully. I suspect the same is true of small towns. A friendly conversation about the problem may work. Calling the authorities almost certainly won't.
Interested Citizen (NYC)
If a conversation takes a turn you don't like (such as about money), I think it is fine to express your discomfort, but not fine to suggest others shouldn't discuss it. If you're still the only objector after raising it once, then discreetly step aside from the conversation and don't insist that others accommodate you.
Laurie (ID)
If a group of people are having a conversation and the topic steers towards something that one person feels uncomfortable about and they want to change the subject, it is kind for others to respect that. We can change the subject and talk about it later rather than ‘banishing’ someone from a conversation. Why stubbornly continue with a topic if it makes someone in the group uncomfortable and they have clearly expressed it?
Maria (Ct)
I just want to say perfect response from Mr. Galanes to the first letter writer. (And, a lot more polite than mine would have been.)
There (somewhere)
@Maria Because you don't really know the circumstances that were added later in the comments
JB (New York)
LW3: Small town newbie? You should have done your research. Apparently the ethicist is from a large city. Small towns are known for their hierarchy and backlash if someone has zoning or laws used against them. The woman is rescuing dogs. When you looked at the house I'm sure she didn't hide that fact. You decided to look the other way. Deal with it, be kind and become her friend. Someone suggested you help her get her pups adopted - great idea! I live in a village. I have dogs. My neighbors hate my new rescue pup. Sorry - she was in a bad situation and it will take her a while to heal. I'm still friends with my neighbors, mostly. Some I never liked anyway. Welcome to the neighborhood! Lol!
Kroobey West Coast (West Coast.)
Appiah is The Ethicist. This is Galanes, who handles questions differently.
akamai (New York)
@JB My solution is to move immediately. This will never get better. Some people, like your neighbor, have no consideration for others.
Cat Lady (USA)
@JB Perhaps LW3 had to make a snap decision to buy the house because of the frenzied real estate market from the past few years. Coming from out of town, they probably couldn't check the property out several times a day to see if there were potential disturbances. Maybe the situation was "hidden" if the previous owners were friends with the next door neighbor, asking her to keep the dogs inside and clean up a bit while the house was on the market. I have new neighbors that moved in a few months ago. By the third day in a row their dog woke me up at 6:30am, I rang their bell to let them know about the early morning disturbance. We kept it calm and cordial, but no promises were made to alleviate the issue. Then I immediately ordered a noise activated ultrasonic sound emitter which is essentially an electric dog whistle. Apparently it doesn't work for all dogs, but luckily it worked for my neighbor's dog. I checked with a veterinarian friend first to confirm it is a safe solution. Problem solved, we all peacefully coexist and I make no apologies for taking training of my neighbor's dog into my own hands. LW3 should have to "deal with" a nuisance, but I've lived in small towns where the politically connected can do as they please and outsiders (regardless of wealth) are treated as second-class citizens.
judy (Judyland)
Re: telling the money gossip that such talk is "none of our business" is a pretty rude way to say it; it is tactless and unnecessarily critical of the gossiper. Why not just change the subject or say, "Oh, I don't care about their money." In spite of the gossip, I don't think we really know how much money other people have, or what sorrows they live with every day, or any of several other personal features of people's lives. (And if you're so focused on other people's money, maybe looking at the reasons for that would be helpful to you. (Jealous? Superior?))
Observer (San Marino, Ca)
Why not engage with your neighbor and provide kitty letter or other smell neutralizer to eliminate the smell? You'll become part of the community if you bring a helpful attitude and a solution...I hope. Good luck!
Sasquatch (Too close for comfort)
@Observer 15 dogs would require gallons of smell neutralizer. This person is trying to do good, but there are other issues that occur. Too many dogs in one enclosure can create very stressful situations for all dogs, leading to fighting and behaviors like incessant chewing, barking, digging, etc. Large amounts of feces are a health hazard both to the dogs and people. Aerosolized feces can lead to respiratory issues, and run-off, well, just imagine the run-off when rains is contaminated with waste from 15 dogs. Many areas have noise ordinances that take dog barking into account. If you haven't had the pleasure of living next to incessant and endless barking and whining, you haven't lived.
richard marcley (Albany)
"I think it’s healthy to acknowledge economic differences." What if you're on the downside of these "economic differences"? I think Mr. Galanes has it wrong and I find discussions about money to be uninteresting and boorish!
Ellen (NYC)
@richard marcley - making money a taboo subject is a great way for those with money to help ensure they keep it. it helps keep the poor ignorant of just how much better off some people are, so change is less likely.
Alice (Oregon)
LW3: you are newcomers to a small town. This isn’t a changeable situation. Decide you can live with it, come up with a healthy adaptation that works for everyone (poop pickup?) or move. Sorry. Seems crazy to me, too, but after you’ve been there for 10 or so years you will come to adopt your neighbors’ “crazy” community logic that incorporates the dogs, the land, the history, etc. There’s deep backstory in small towns that takes a long time to emerge. But your neighbor is right: you are not really empowered to change this.
Doreen Deicke (San Francisco)
I think it’s worth a try to talk to the neighbor if there is someone else in the house. I walked over to a neighbors house who drunkenly sang at the top of his lungs and asked him to be less loud. His mother was there and she agreed. Never heard the neighbor again. See if someone else lives in the house that might be on your side.
akamai (New York)
@Doreen Deicke Nothing will change. Move.
lilrabbit (In The Big Woods)
In regard to the dogs: Small towns are just...different. During the pandemic my small town (Population around 800, but hey, we have fiber optic!) was innundated with newcomers who seem to have vast reserves unstructured time to exercise their intense desire to remake the town into a smaller scale version of the city they escaped. For some it's hard to learn, but there are things that ought not be messed with. I'd suggest showing up regularly with a few bags of puppy chow...for several months before offering to help clean up or build any dog runs.
Russell (Anchorage, Alaska)
Is "Joe" eight hundred years old? Alternately, are they really incapable of escaping a conversation they don't want to have?
Glen (Pleasantville)
For the neighbor to fifteen dogs: Are these rescue chihuahuas or rescue pit bulls? Because stopping by a property with fifteen neglected, unsocialized dogs in a muddy pen is how people get mauled to death. Or the dogs dig out and get the Amazon guy. Or the census lady. Or the neighbor kid. I love dogs, but they can be dangerous, and especially in situations like this where someone is edging into animal hoarder territory.
Rosie (NJ)
Are these letters for real?!?! This column went from social advise to “You can’t figure this one out yourself? Really?!?” The lady still so simmering over a feud with a dead person that she now needs to spread her misery to others: get a therapist. The letter writer with the dog hoarding neighbor; contact your town’s health department. The one wanting to date the sister’s ex: ewwww. Even if your sister would have been ok with it: ewwww. The man has slept with your sister and you do not think he will be comparing notes? Find yourself a new man with whom you can build your own history without having to with whatever sister-related baggage that man is carrying.
Steve G. (Los Angeles)
Dogs. Poop. Knock down the fly population with the Victor M380 Fly Magnet 1-Quart Reusable Trap With Bait. Basically it is a jar where the flies enter and they can't get out. (Save your old mayonnaise jars.) You can bait it with a small piece of fish. Set it away from the house. You can kill thousands of flies economically and safely.
Tim (Pennsylvania)
@Steve G." You get more flies with honey but the most with dead fish. " Woody on Cheers TV series.
akamai (New York)
@Steve G. And what about constant barking?
Elizabeth (Vietnam)
Those dogs' lives are more important than annoying smells or sounds. Consider adopting one or two, and/or helping this person advertise her fosters (thereby getting them placed sooner), and/or sponsoring the poop cleaning. The world needs more empathy and fewer neighbors tattling on each other to code enforcement.
M.R. Sullivan (Boston)
@Elizabeth You can rescue dogs AND clean up after them.
Dani Weber (Redwood City Ca)
Its on an acre lot. That’s not really residential. Plus it just seems weird she is blaming the mosquitoes on the dogs.
Sasquatch (Too close for comfort)
@Dani Weber Water bowls outside are a known source of mosquito breeding sites.
Wondering (SoCal)
I come from a family with some odd personalities and in which feuds among older generations were common. So I grew up never meeting a few great aunts and cousins. Occasionally some of us now-middle-aged grandkids, nieces, etc., meet on social media, and it's nice to chat and get to know one another a bit. Certainly, nobody ever wants to talk about whatever drama led the older generations to fall out. In the rare cases where I've met someone who felt it appropriate to lecture me about what a nasty person my older relative was, I've found it hurtful. I certainly know my relatives were imperfect - but I couldn't help it. So - I would tread carefully in approaching the great niece, esp. as she's only 19. She shouldn't feel like she's on the receiving end of generational guilt. I'm also guessing great-niece's parents may have told her their own version of the story at this point, or they will if LW1 makes contact. I'm in agreement with Ganese's advice on how to handle things. In any case, I'd encourage LW1 not to dump "Let me tell you what your lousy grandma did" in the lap of a 19-year-old who barely knows her.
akamai (New York)
@Wondering This is to explain (and heal) and inter-family rift.
RosiePI (Charleston SC)
Telling another, “confessing” especially those we supposedly love of transgressions is suspiciously self serving. Your niece likely has happy memories of her grandmother, how could tearing these apart improve her relationship with your family? Wouldn’t it be kinder to give her an abridged version without the need for self serving justification, without putting the relationship to her family in jeopardy?
Liz (New England)
Re #4- "Family prominence is not omnipotence." Spoken like someone who has never lived in a small town, especially the kind where the cliques form in preschool, and anyone with fewer than 3 generations in the ground is an outsider.
Margie (Virginia)
@Liz I thought the same thing. I've lived and worked in my small community for over 20 years. It is only through my children (all now young adults) that I have become accepted in SOME circles. The children all grew up here (preschool onward) and were extremely active in various high school sports and clubs. There is one diner on Main Street (seriously) where every head turns when the door opens and you get evaluated "Is this person one of us (townies) or not." I don't go there. I got tired of the looks and the poor service. (Townies first you know!)
akamai (New York)
@Margie This is precisely why I would never live in a small town. And heaven help you if you're the "wrong" race, ethnic group, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
TxnLady (TX)
If my sister told me not to date a guy she once dated, I would immediately think it was because she was just jealous. But if I told her not to date a guy I once dated, I would know it's because he is dangerous or isn't good enough for her. But that's just us.
Jwyly (Denver)
Dear Neighbor, your neighbor sounds kind and generous. Rather than threaten or make demands why not offer assistance? The dogs are inside most of the time so when she lets them out they need to get rid of energy. Why not introduce yourself, point out the noise and see if you two can find a solution? It shouldn’t be that hard to be kind and sympathetic while defending your right to live peacefully next to her. And offer some support in exchange, buy a few bags of food, offer to spend an hour in the yard with the dogs showing them some love, etc. And encourage your neighbors to do the same.
Robert (NYC)
Re LW3 (opm), social media increases speculation about how other people may have acquired their money and wealth. I have a few friends on Social Media who seem to be constantly traveling, I always wonder how they can afford it and how they can have so much vacation time from their job.
Margie (Virginia)
Re: Letter #1: There's some real important information missing here regarding the initial long ago dispute with the relatives. Anyway the core question deals with contacting a young relative to "explain" reasons for a family estrangement. I do wonder about Great Aunt's motives for wanting contact with the 19 year old. The 19 year old is probably already aware of what happened from her parents-their side of the issue-whether accurate or inaccurate. Whatever Great Aunt's intentions may be, drama will be the ONLY result of a " Let me tell you." visit.
There (somewhere)
I am LW1. These are more facts - It wasn't sister-in-law's home. It was her husband's family's home - willed to him and his brother many years before her marriage into the family. Her children were adults when the marriage occurred. There was a prenup where she had no stake in the house.
historyRepeated (Massachusetts)
The additional facts by LW1 certainly do create additional context.
Willa (The Greatest)
@There This explanation definitely adds missing details to your letter, but what it doesn’t add is your interest in your SIL’s granddaughter. If you consider your SIL’s kids not being your family (and not deserving a share of their step-fathers real estate), why are you so interested in considering the granddaughter your family? My mom and uncle (who I barely remember from my childhood) had issues dividing my grandparents property, and it got very ugly. Don’t know what my kids will decide, but I’m not interested in anyone who hurt my mom and my grandma. I think it would be better for everyone to keep the past in the past.
bluerose (Ici)
If this can be verified, this comment should be an NYT pick.
Blake (Oakland)
Per the Neighbor w Dogs. You are assuming the city will take action on a code violation. That's often not the case.
Diane (RI)
Re LW1-in the 1950s, my grandfather witnessed a new will by his life long friend, leaving his house to his beloved sister Rose, who had always lived with him and his deceased wife. When the friend died, his sister-in-law contested the new will, and won, because there had only been one witness to the signature. My mother, who was furious, asked “Aunt” Rose to live with us, but the poor lady died of a broken heart before the move. Taught us all the importance of adhering to procedure on legal documentation.
Lisa (Auckland, NZ)
@ Diane Yes, when it comes to things like wills it really doesn't pay to skimp on the fee for a lawyer to organise it. If the lawyer gets it wrong, a beneficiary can sue them for recovery of the value of what was lost through negligence, and the lawyer's professional indemnity insurance will pay up, or at least that's the case here: Gartside v. Sheffield Young & Ellis [1983] NZLR 37 established that lawyers drawing up a will owe a duty of care to the beneficiaries. It's in Wikipedia under Gartside v. Sheffield, and taught here in first year law.
Diane (RI)
@Lisa So true, in the litigious society of today, anything involving legal documentation must be handled by a lawyer. But society 70 years ago was vastly different-people generally consulted lawyers when there was “trouble”. The wishes stated in a simple will would have been accepted without question, except for the greedy sister-in-law. I don’t know how much latitude judges had then, but intent was clear, and poor Aunt Rose could have kept her home.
Jennifer (Georgia)
LW1 - I wonder if the half of the house was to be left to the brother back before the second brother had a family? if so, that makes sense: Single brother deeds house back into the family. BUT, once a marriage happened and children were involved, the will or intent for that half of the house should have been changed to recognize correct beneficiaries. Unfortunately, changing a will often doesn't get done. (I am an estate planning attorney) People put it off assuming they'll get to it at some point. In this case, I suspect it never got changed and the soon to be widow, realizing she was going to lose her home, tried to get something fixed that should have been fixed before the brain surgery. The whole thing is ugly and split up a family. It simply reiterates why you should have your planning documents in order. Major life changes (marriage, divorce, birth, death) should always trigger a re-evaluation of those documents.
There (somewhere)
@Jennifer It wasn't "her home". It was her husband's family's home - willed to him and his brother many years before her marriage into the family. Her children were adults when the marriage occurred. There was a prenup where she had no stake in the house.
Gabriela (Richards)
@There Doesn't matter. Anyone who has children works for their children. The house was not meant for one brother alone. How selfish.
DJS (New York)
@There The prenup was a legal agreement between the husband and wife. It doesn't matter if the wife had no stake in the house. The husband had the right to leave his half of the property to his wife, or to anyone or any entity of his choosing.
Kohl (Ohio)
LW3: There's "not liking to talk about money" and then there's "having an irrational dislike of talking about money". Make sure it is not the latter.
tony (mount vernon, wa)
The inconsiderate neighbor with 15 dogs is not going to listen to the pleas of a neighbor. They are doing there own thing! If a person thinks a neighbor is violating zoning laws they should report it to code enforcement. Let the authorities handle it. It is the job of code enforcement to handle these things and they are good at it. Stay out of direct conflict with a selfish neighbor, then there is no friction.
Mrs_I (Toronto, Canada)
About LW, her sister and the ex: If the sister truly respected and cared for the LW's safety and well-being, she would've said, "Don't date the guy. I have my reasons. Here's why..." For the sister to point-blank tell LW not to date him (and he wasn't even a long-term serious boyfriend to begin with!) with no specific, valid reasons given, sounds more like a possessive, controlling issue on the sister's part. Not a good look, and certainly not fair or justified.
Ravenna (New York)
@Mrs_I And why did the sister even call her sister to crow about being asked out by the sister's ex-boyfriend?
cirincis (Eastern LI)
“Crow” about the BF?? They are in their 30s, and the prior relationship (if you can call several weeks of HS dating a ‘relationship’), happened more than a decade ago. Sounds as if her sister shared what she thought was good news, only to get the really weird response from her sib. So sure, ask to make sure there are no giant red flags, but if this is nothing but pique from the other sister, the LW should go out with the guy without guilt and form her own opinion on him—and her sister should be gracious and happy for her if it works out.
John Virgone (Pennsylvania)
Joe When the conversation becomes intolerable, a few extra bottles of beer go a long way towards promoting tolerance, as it “levels the head and eases the mind.”
RV (West Allenhurst, NJ)
From the little I have to go on, you wrangled that house away from that family, and your conscious can no longer take it. Let's sell your (their) half back and present that while you're having the tea and biscuits!
Andante (NC)
Read the additional info LW posted in a comment above.
Val Challah (Massachusetts)
I read it and it doesn’t matter—brother had every right to leave his home to whomever, and LW already had half a house for herself.
Artemis Platz (Bucks County Pa.)
"I wish you the best of luck in dating her ex (with whom she may have had sex)." This is just weird. Why does Mr. Galanes (who is usually right on point), throwing in this sex comment at the end? Presumably the LW is aware that is a possibility. So what? Having had sex years ago with someone doesn't grant you veto power over your friends relationships.
A W (SF)
@Artemis Platz I don't think the intent is to say it gives veto power. But I think a lot of us would feel a bit weird having sex with someone who has had sex with our sibling. I suspect the point of highlighting it would be to try to get the letter writer to think carefully about that possibility and whether it changes her desire to go on a date with this person. Not to say that it should or should not, just that it's something to think about.
DJS (New York)
@Artemis Platz That was weird indeed.
Pauline (NYC)
@Artemis Platz ~ I think there was more subtlety to Galanes's response than you may recognize. The intensity of her sister's reaction suggests that there may be more to her concern about LW dating her ex than she's letting on. Asking her sister directly to relate her reasons why makes sense.
Jill (Seattle)
For LW2, why did you ask your sister about the drinks date if you're just going to disregard what she said? Ask her why she doesn't want you to see him and listen to what she says. Maybe he was an awful person and she's trying to warn you. Maybe he was very special to her and she wants to preserve a memory. Your relationship with her will almost certainly outlast any you might have with him.
Val Challah (Massachusetts)
It’s not explicitly stated that she “asked.” I read it that she was just telling her about it and was surprised by the negative reaction.
Susan McHale (Greenwich CT)
None of these problems are actually problems, except the dogs. Otherwise, people have weird thoughts in their brain that just seem like that have too much time on their hands.
John Virgone (Pennsylvania)
Sister Perhaps he has a brother or friend for your sister so that you all can double date together.
Jennifer (California)
A possible alternate version of the story, told from the other side: 'Many years ago, my husband owned a two family house with his brother. He had planned to leave it to his brother, but then he became very ill. His brain surgery and treatment ate into our savings and we had to drain our retirement. Worried for the financial security of our family, including our children, my husband changed his will to leave us his half of the house.' See how easy that is? It could be exactly as LW1 says, but I'm not sure I see evil greed in a husband and father leaving real property to his wife. Especially not after serious medical problems, which can really drain a family's savings. People can behave really badly where inheritances are involved. In this case it could have come from either side. And how does LW1 know the great niece never received an explanation, if there has been no contact at all?
Kyk (Planet Earth)
Your possible scenario might have been likely if it wasn’t for one sentence in the letter: “My husband and I sued and won.” That means that there were some financial agreements/arrangements that predated the rewritten will. For example, the LW and husband paid the sick brother’s medical expenses in exchange for his share of the house with a clause that the ailing brother and his family could remain in the house for the duration of the ailing brother’s life. Or something similar. Without some sort of financial debt to the LW and her spouse, a rewritten will benefitting the deceased person’s next of kin (wife and children) would have won the day in court.
Jafawa (San Diego)
It was the brother who became ill. The healthy brother and his wife, LW#1, successfully challenged the deathbed change to the suck brother’s will and disinherited the sick brother’s presumptive heirs. One would assume that it was their assets that were drained and that the wife bore the brunt of caring for her sick husband. It’s not really relevant what actually happened though, there is no reason for LW#1 to share her side with the disinherited grandniece.
JMR (WA)
Re letter LW1. My mother had a terrible falling-out with her only sister to the extent that when her sister was dying, my mother refused her request to visit her. My mother didn't like that I kept in touch with my aunt and cousins and told me, unasked, why they had quarrelled. My mother appeared to be the wronged party. Many years later, after my mother died, I had a conversation with my aunt's son who told me an entirely different, more plausible, version of the story where my mother appears to have behaved very badly and was the cause of the break-up. I was left with the very uncomfortable feeling that my mother had lied to me. (Not for the first time). I'd suggest that LW1 keep her 'side of the story' to herself and ask herself why she would want to damage the granddaughter's likely fond memory of her grandmother?
Susan (USA)
I took a neighbor to court over ONE incessantly barking dog, so I cannot imagine 15 of them at once! Find out what your municipalities' nuisance noise ordinance is (read it, top to bottom) and take action NOW. Of course, talk to your neighbor first. I tried that, nothing happened. It took two years and I took copious evidence in the form of videos on my phone, which i uploaded to my laptop. In the final hearing, the hearing officer had me play the tape of my neighbor's dog barking over his explanation of how his dog didn't bark at all, and I was out to get him. It was a golden moment! He got rid of the dog rather than allow the Animal Control officers to come onto his rental property as agreed to in the settlement. Peace and quiet forever! I wish you luck. It's worth it for sure.
Cindi (Ohio)
@Susan What a glorious courtroom moment! Congratulations!
Limon (NY NY)
Thanks for sharing this. Hopeful!!!
Elizabeth (Vietnam)
@Susan This is deplorable behavior. What sort of person would consider this a victory? Stone heart.
Megom (NY)
LW2 - Can't help but feel that many details of a complex sibling relationship were left out of this letter. Bottom line is that if your sister objects, why would you move forward with drinks unless you actually want to cause conflict?
Kath (Portland)
Maybe she’s “about 30” and wants to find a compatible partner who lives in her town.
Ida A (Michigan)
@Kath Sounds like an episode of Virgin River
Another person (Here)
LW1: No point in telling the story. If grand niece's family discussed it at all, they probably poisoned the well against the LW and her husband. Grand niece's grandparents are dead, so they can't hurt the grand niece. Which would be the only reason to tell her. One of the grand-niece's parents was "complicit", but to what degree or what that parent was told isn't clear. If LW1 wants to genuinely reach out to the grand niece and see if she's open to establishing a relationship, by all means do so. I'd change Philip's suggestion to suggest a more neutral meeting ground. My mother cut people off to punish them, including me several times. She'd lie to her family. These charmers withheld information about her health which affected my risk of inheriting a BRCA mutation. Long story short, I found out, confronted one of the key players (my mother had died by that point) and found out about the risk. I tested positive for a BRCA mutation. Informed the necessary people because 1) have no quarrel with their kids and 2) even if the "adults" are awful humans, I don't want them to suffer from cancer. I got the surgeries I needed to reduce my cancer risk. I've no desire to see anyone involved in the deception. I'll keep the door open for the kids when they're adults. But I'd be wary, because the well has probably been poisoned. Some unsolicited advice for LW1. Living well is truly the best revenge. Deal with your feelings, but move on from these people.
beth (princeton)
LW1: My NPD/BPD mother and her goniff lawyer brother had a deathbed will signed by their aunt, my great aunt, stealing what would now after 28 years be well worth over $1M. It was the last straw of her abuse for me, and I have not spoken to her since. I lost all my relationships with the family except my brother, they had no idea who she was or what she had done. Have I missed my few aunts, uncles, and cousins? No. I moved on after some early stumbles and built a wonderful happy life for myself. I am sorry to say you are probably not missed. Think from your niece’s perspective what if anything you might add to her life. Once I got through the rough stuff if anyone in my mother’s family reached out to me I would have blown them off.
alex (Princeton nj)
A wise person once told me that it is not healthy to be squeamish about the subject of money, that talking about money matter-of-factly is the right choice. This approach clears the way to understanding -- and helping others to understand -- that being wealthy is not, ipso facto, a virtue or sign of moral or any other kind of superiority, and that not being wealthy is not, ipso facto, a vice.
Gerry L (Oregon)
A healthy talk about money can be a good practice. But talking about other people’s money? Not quite the same thing.
A W (SF)
@Gerry L But why? This particular taboo has always fascinated me. I don't see why it's any more objectionable than talking about anything else about other people - and often less objectionable. I know I'd be less hurt by someone gossiping about my wealth than about my health, my looks, my taste, or my personal relationships.
RKP (Pompano Beach)
The New England phrase, "it is always easier to count someone else's money" is always useful. It sucks the wind right out of the puffery inherent to discussions of other peoples' money.
Morgan’s (Alberta, Canada)
Sadly I would wholeheartedly agree and keep talking. However, I have found talking money can be helpful to inexperienced and or young people; there can be a lot of things they don’t know or are unaware of with respect to money.
John Virgone (Pennsylvania)
Great Aunt It appears that you make assumptions about two points- 1-"the child lost all contact with our side of the family without any explanation" 2-that she needs closure of something she may not remember Remember the old saying about people who assume (ass-u-me).
nerdrage (SF)
LW1: We only have your side of the story. How do we know the brother-in-law was "confused" as opposed to, simply changed his mind? How could your home be "stolen" of only half of it was in contention? Usually husbands leave their properties to their wives, not their brothers. If the granddaughter is at all savvy, she'll question your version of events and resent you bad-mouthing her dead grandmother who can't defend herself. It's pretty likely she's gotten a different version of events from her parents already, the ones who were "complicit." Get back in touch just because she's your grandniece but don't say anything about the rift other than vague words about it being a sad misunderstanding. Why not patch things up with other relatives? Frankly the LW sounds guilty, which is why they are looking for "closure." LW2: Sis is hilariously out of line. Just see the guy for drinks and tell her to get over it. LW3: Sometimes when people start discussing something I find boring (such as sports), I just shut up and wait for a chance to redirect the conversation. Try that. LW4: Ay yi yi. The dog lady sounds like a beloved local character. Find other ways to address the issue. An acre is a big lot to be smelly, does she never clean up the poop at all? Maybe offer to help her manage the pooches, build a dog run on the other side of her property. Maybe you'll make a friend. Ratting her out to the authorities will make you the local villain forever, go there as a last resort only.
Elizabeth (Vietnam)
@nerdrage You offer some of the most cogent advice in this thread. NYT should give you a column!
PNRN (PNW)
About those dogs, others have already handled the poop issue--gotta be cleaned up. But the barking can be even a worse insult to quality of life. My brother, after suffering with his own pooches hourly barking for a decade or so, finally invested in a stop-barking collar. (The kind that emits a high-pitched squeal, not a shock, whenever the dog barks.) He says Stanley, (the basso profundo), was cured of barking in about 3 hours! He still goes to the window when he hears anything barkable, and lets out a sub-vocal "woof!", which apparently satisfies his honor and guard role. (He won't need to wear the collar much longer. Probably will need reminder wearings, once a week or so?). But family is happy and Stanley's still ebullient. So perhaps the suffering neighbors, in this case, could take up a collection, buy 15 collars, and insist they be worn? If dog rescuer is a nice lady, how could she resist?
Anne Marie (Chicago)
@PNRN Yes, hurting/shocking/spanking works for training, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. Even if a person thinks it’s sometimes justifiable, these are probably recently abused dogs. I don’t think shocking an abused dog will even work the same as shocking a well cared for dog, and it’s cruel.
EstherLee (Culleoka TN)
but the writer you responded to did not hurt or shock his dog. the result of the dogs bark was a low sound.
Peter (CT)
Who is to say he was confused? Whatever it said in the will, that’s what should have happened. This isn’t an issue of fairness. When I depart this world, I can leave instructions to my executor to do whatever it is I want with my money. Your opinion of what I do doesn’t matter, unless I actually owe you something. I would say tell the daughter all about it. The less she thinks the world defaults to fairness, the better she’ll be able to cope with what’s coming her way.
Tim (Pennsylvania)
@Peter The court disagreed with you, maybe it was the brain surgery, maybe the prenup, who knows.
GN (Albany)
There is nothing new about talking about other people's money. Try Stendhal or Balzac's novels. "une rente de xx par an" was a major part of a person's characteristics. In feudalism the amount of land was owned was a big deal. Heck, even in the 1956 classic "Giant" the huge size of Rock Hudson's ranch was discussed with the parents who were concerned about Elizabeth Taylor's propsects. There's nothing new about this. I guess Joe is just waking up to what the rest of us have seen all along.
beth (princeton)
@GN Just saw Giant in a local theatre and had no odea what I had missed all these years!
Roberta (Greenfield MA)
The brother-in-law's wife and their children should have inherited his property. We don't know from this letter why the brother-in-law had promised to disinherit them, or if he was truly "confused" when he changed his will. The writer nevertheless prevailed and it's not surprising there's been a rift. The writer can not have it both ways. Let sleeping dogs lie!
D (Midwest)
Perhaps there is more to this story (there always is). However, as a financial crimes investigator, I'm not understanding why it's wrong for a wife/mother (the sister-in-law) not to want to retain what is theirs (not to mention I don't understand why the brother-in-law would give a "gift" of half the house to his in-laws versus keeping the value in his immediate family). I'm guessing that by "winning the case," you mean that the court ruled that signing a new Will (while potentially not having all of his mental faculties after brain surgery), was the case?
Uofc English (Wilmette)
@D I agree. The real crime seems to be the brother taking the other brothers property, an agreement that probably predated other obligations. The letter of the law here is not the whole story. The "sister-in-law" comes off as a horrible greedy human being. No, I don't think the next generation will want to get to know her. Unless there is some big story I'm missing here the banishment seems justified.
brighteyed (MA)
LW1 I strongly suspect that the brothers made this "pact" of survivorship before they had wives and children. I'm fairly certain that if either brother were to have rewritten their wills, that they would have willed their half ownership to their families. There was no real intent to swindle nor complicity. But, alas, fair is not usually the domain of the law. Sometimes it's just how clever/expensive the lawyer you've been able to hire. The lawyers are usually the real beneficiaries of such familial disputes. Empathy.
J (United Kingdom)
This is another one of the letters that appear in this column - with some regularity - where it's just impossible to assess the situation without more information. On the face of things it seems absurd for the second brother's wife and children not to inherit. Did the first brother pay for more than his share of the two properties? Did the second brother own other property? The letter-writer is clearly eager to vindicate herself to her in-laws' descendants, for whatever reason. Perhaps she knows that the estranged granddaughter and other family members have suffered significant financial damage from the outcome. Whatever the truth, it's mind-boggling to imagine what life would have been like if Brother number 2's wife had won her case, and continued to live next door to her now-fully-alienated in-laws.
CM (NY)
She wouldn’t have had to live next door. She could have sold & used the proceeds to live elsewhere.
J (United Kingdom)
@CM Yes, I think one family or the other would have to get out of there, but that would probably be a whole other saga.
Jim (Placitas)
LW Dog Shelter: Some people --- like me --- have a resting face or tone of voice or posture or approach or whatever that gets read as confrontational when "approaching neighbors to resolve a problem". Okay, I'll rephrase: I ALWAYS come across as confrontational, even if I don't mean to be, mostly because it chaps my hide that I have to go over there and tell this idiot that his dog barking for 2 hours at 2 in the morning during the summer when everybody has their windows open trying to sleep is a problem. Apparently this moron is either stone deaf, doesn't care, doesn't think this is a problem ("Hey man," I've been told, "That's what dogs do, man... they bark."), or --- like some dog owners --- thinks everyone should share in the delight of owning his dog. So, there's that. Then there's people like my daughter who can talk to anybody about anything and get them to do what they want (including me.) She has the knack for facial expression, body language, and conversation that just naturally leads to a positive, pleasant resolution for her any time she has issues like this. Sometimes I think about asking her to come over and talk to Mr. Dogs Bark Because That's What Dogs Do, but that seems unfair. All to say: Before you go visit your neighbors about whatever stupid, inconsiderate thing they're doing to ruin your life, check on which type you are --- me, or my daughter. Proceed accordingly.
Jim (Placitas)
@JD from Anywhere... Thanks for the advice. I can tell that you're one of those truly considerate people who would never think to attack someone on an internet forum for simply writing a tongue-in-cheek self deprecating description of dealing with one's neighbors. Because that would be truly moronic, stupid, and inconsiderate. But that's obviously not you. One thing though... try not to take the world so seriously. Makes you say things anonymously you'd never say to somebody in person.
Douglas (Portland, OR)
@Jim Thank goodness for "delete" buttons, no? I didn't have the opportunity to read JD's post, but -- reading between the lines -- you had me laughing from your second post almost as much as from your first! Thanks for making my day...
Elizabeth (Vietnam)
@Jim Smart advice, Jim.
NoCommonSense (Somewhere Fun)
LW3 unless they ask about your money, let them talk while you remain quiet.
Martine (Texas)
What your neighbor is doing is actually animal abuse and unhealthy for her and the dogs as well as the people in the neighborhood. Don't confront her, contact the appropriate authorities to complain, surely there is a limit on the number of animals one can have in the city limits? Or at least hire a poop scooper to help her clean up. 15 dogs = way too much poop on a 1 acre lot.
Megom (NY)
I'm very involved with dog rescue and fostering (I have my own substantial pack) and I suggest speaking directly to your neighbor. If she is actually a lovely person and you approach her with kindness, there's no reason not to bring this up to her. It's likely that she's become "noseblind" to the smell in her yard and has no idea that everyone is suffering in silence. Obviously, poop must be cleaned up regularly, and if it's not that's an absolutely essential first step. But on a one acre lot there are should be lots of ways to mitigate the odor and annoyance.
NoCommonSense (Somewhere Fun)
LW2 there is “no big deal” from a weeks long fling that happened nearly 10 years ago. Meeting for drinks with this guy doesn’t portend a relationship of any kind. It’s just drinks. Go or not.
Gerry L (Oregon)
@nocommonsense, Would you say the same thing if you were to find out that the reason they broke it off is that he tried to assault her sister?
NoCommonSense (Somewhere Fun)
@Gerry L Why would a guy who assaulted a woman contact her sister for a drink? If the guy assaulted the sister, well she should tell LW because without that vital information, it looks like the sister is just enforcing "the code".
NoCommonSense (Somewhere Fun)
@Gerry L Well we don't know what if anything happened because the LW's sister didn't say. Moreover, it doesn't make sense that a guy would ask the sister of a woman he assaulted out for drinks.
NoCommonSense (Somewhere Fun)
LW1 seems like you want to bad mouth this relative under the guise of contacting this long lost relative. You have the house so move on.
Jill (Seattle)
@NoCommonSense Right? She opens the letter with "she tried to steal our house;" clearly there are raw emotions still in play. To the LW, try this: "Many years ago, there was a disagreement between our families about ownership of a house. It was resolved in court and we haven't spoken since. I'm sad that our family was fractured by this and I'd like to move on." If you can't say that, you're not in a place to meet with your great-niece. What is the point of pushing an old disagreement to the next generation? Are you missing having someone to argue with?
Noah (Utah)
The idea that anyone would consider, even for a moment, calling the granddaughter of their dead sister-in-law to say, "this is why me and your grandma hated each other" is absolutely insane to me. Granddaughters generally spend zero time thinking about the sisters-in-law of their grandmothers. What possible good could come of throwing dirt on a dead woman?
Rainer (Germany)
@Noah asks: "What possible good could come of throwing dirt on a dead woman?" It would vividly illustrate the great-aunt's character. This in turn might bring some closure to the young woman, in case she ever wondered whether she was missing out by not really knowing her great-aunt.
Linda Carlson (Sequim, Clallam County WA)
Asking about salaries or income is often simply nosy, but also sometimes a crude way of assessing a person's value in the work world, as when family members want to compare what each sibling/child/grandchild/niece/nephew is paid. Attributing the ability to afford a house/car/vacation/college to inheritance or family help is too often an insult that ignores that each of us has different spending, saving and investing practices.
brighteyed (MA)
Advice too late for Neighbor: When buying real estate, visit and spend time there at various times of day. If there's a noise, visual, or smell issue, it will be hundreds of times worse when living there. Any proposed or imagined fixes are just wishful thinking. Due diligence is the buyer's protection: caveat emptor.
Peter (CT)
@brighteyed Most people don’t realize that a real estate agent is bound by law not to tell you things about the child molester that owns the property next door, the person who committed suicide in the house you are looking at, and other seemingly innocuous stuff about the neighborhood. Your advice is 100% correct. Also, take a trip to the local police station and ask questions.
Belzoni (Los Angeles)
LW1, I basically agree with Mr. Galanes. I think you should open the door to your grandniece, but not with that specific purpose in mind. I certainly wouldn't open with that! If you reestablish a connection with her and you two develop a relationship, this will likely come up. If it does, be honest. But don't force the issue.
Ruth P (California)
About the first letter, it sounds like an old acquaintance who inherited a home along with a sibling. My acquaintance (A) lived far away and had nothing to do with the property while the sibling moved in and made many improvements with their own money. Years later, A tried to force the now-much more valuable property into a sale, forcing the resident sibling both out of the house and to split the improved value of the house. The sibling had letters from A refusing to pay any part of the property taxes or necessary repairs to the house and some evidence that A saw the house as the sibling’s sole property. A judgement was eventually made that the sibling paid A half the value of the property at the time of inheritance less all the improvements and taxes paid to that point, or essentially nothing. A complained for months about being “cheated” and so moved from being my friend to being my acquaintance. There is no evidence how LW1’s husband and brother acquired that property or who had paid for maintenance and improvements. Nevertheless, she won the battle and so should let it go and not try to burden the younger generation with information that no longer matters to them. We pay a price for winning. We pay a price to have peace.
Jacqueline (GB)
Don’t burden the girl with the past’s bad feelings. My mother is a narcissist. My brother and I have had years of dealing with the havoc she created in the family. We’ve lost touch with family members due to her behaviour. We’re now in our early 60’s, our mother in her late 80’s, still wicked, still nasty. However, the next generation, that is my nephews and nieces, have moved on from their grandmother’s havoc, and that is the way my brother and I want it to be. The pain and unpleasantness stops here.
Penn Towers (Wausau, WI)
I'm not getting the house story. If the other brother owned half the house, he had every right to give that half to his wife. No? And here, I'm assuming that he owned the half before he married, otherwise the half would have automatically passed to her. Depends on state?
Olita (Sacramento)
@Penn Towers It depends on how the the brothers held the property. In some states, owners can hold property such that upon one owner’s death, it immediately goes to the surviving owner, even if they are not married. Here, it sounds like they owned it such that each owner could devise it as they wished, although, for the sake of keeping the peace, it really shouldn’t be a free for all - could you imagine owning a house with your mortal enemy because your co-owner bequeathed it to that person? Ugh.
Anne Marie (Chicago)
@Olita Oh that’s so smart- I believe you’re (almost) right and that didn’t even occur to me as an attorney. Actually it sounds like they could *not* devise it as they wish. So the deed said joint tenants with rights of survivorship, passing immediately on death. Hence disregarding the will leaving his half of the property to his wife. Excellent catch
Peter (CT)
@Anne Marie Many a fine attorney has failed to pass the real estate exam as a result of assuming they already knew everything.
Beautiful Day (Somewhere Great)
About the money talk - I don't mind it if it's 3 or 4 people away from the conversation - then it's just gossip. And talking about the realities of money to kids is essential to them understanding the world and decision-making - and expectation setting. But we have a friend, who feels emboldened to just ask, "how much did that cost?" with anything in our home from art to the garbage or alarm services we use. There's an undercurrent of judgment and I'm always astounded by the general lack of manners. I mean, it's one thing to inquire about a generic household item you'd be interested in... if you don't mind me asking, how much was that? But over and over... it's just rude.
Joann (Seattle)
@Beautiful Day My friend ,when asked how much something cost, replied “ “enough.” It shut people up (usually).
Pdianek (Virginia)
Re LW2 (high-school fling) -- look, letter writer, get off your high horse and talk with your sister. Ask her what went on. Ask her if there's something she can tell you about the guy. There may be a dark reason she and he dated for only "a few weeks". Perhaps he sexually assaulted her and she doesn't want him to do the same to you. That would make her response the opposite of "idiotic", as you called it.
Kate (California)
Exactly
Anne Marie (Chicago)
@Pdianek Sexual assault was my first suspicion as well. Possibly what was called “taking advantage” back then, so the sister wouldn’t necessarily urgently warn her, just say please don’t.
Emily Moore (New Orleans)
LW 1's disclosed facts: 1) 2 family house is LW and husband's home 2) Jointly owned 3) "Promise" to leave jointly owned house to LW/husband in will 4) BIL has brain surgery 5) SIL had BIL sign a "new" will when BIL "confused" 6) "Their" children are complicit 7) LW/husband "sued and won." Missing information: 1) Was house also BIL and SIL's home? 2) Was there a prior will in which house is left to LW/husband? 3) Was there a contractual obligation for BIL to leave house to LW/husband? The fact that this was taken to court and LW and her husband won means that either there was some contractual obligation for the brother-in-law to leave the house to LW/husband, or there was a prior will and the BIL was found to be incompetent/incapacitated at the time the new will was signed. Inclusion of disclosed facts 4 & 5 suggests the latter to me. However it must have been hard to convince a judge to overturn a will in favor of the BIL's wife/mother of BIL's children, especially if they were all living there. It would have to be incapacity because you'd never win undue influence under those facts. On the other hand, it would be easier to convince a judge to ignore the "new" will if the "promise to leave his half of the house to us in his will" was a written contractual obligation supported by consideration. On its own, such a promise is unenforceable. But it also seems like the LW would have mentioned a contract or consideration if it existed.
MMS (Des Moines, IA)
@Emily Moore LW said the brother promised to leave the other brother the property in his will. A promise to leave something in your will has no legal standing unless it is actually in the will or stated in a written contract. An important factor is how the property was jointly owned — as tenants in common or as joint owners with rights of survivorship. And even if the will gave the house to the brother and a judge ruled the wife used undue influence to change the will, in most states the spouse can elect to take against the will and receive a statutory share (i.e. half) of the deceased’s property. A lot of legal details left out, but LW does not come off well in kicking a widow out of the house owned by her husband.
Emily Moore (New Orleans)
@MMS Right, like I said the promise on its own is unenforceable. If the property was jointly owned with rights of survivorship, it wouldn't be the BIL's to leave in a will and the will would be moot as to the property. I think because of the emphasis by LW on the wills, it's likely the wills were the only potentially binding legal documents involved. But you're right, there are many unanswered legal questions. Do they live in a community property state? Was the house separate property? Did the BIL have substantial assets outside the house that SIL inherited? In any case, I tend to think if details existed that made the LW look better they'd have been included. I agree the LW does not come off well.
DD (LA, CA)
The answer to LW1 is why I love this column. Personal, perspicacious, palatable, and unexpected but utterly appropriate. What a great antidote to the necessary but often debilitating “big news” stories that avalanche us daily.
Christopher Slevin (Michigan)
This is a family matter and better left to them. What is there to be gained by bringing up dead issues? The past is past and best left alone. Broken family ties are common in many families. If there is a joint need for reconciliation, let it happen without bringing up issues from the past. There are two sides to every dispute, and you may have the wrong side. If a family get-together presents itself, deal with your desire for a renewal without attaching it to past events which wont change anything except cement the breakdown further
Al (Suburban Phila.)
Money, Politics, Religion. Why don't we talk about these? Offend people's sensibilities? Create unnecessary discord? Create envy and resentment? Here's my take: When we don't talk about money inequities persist. Women don't get equal pay. Lousy managers and others who don't do much get advantage over people who work hard and get things done. Nobody will admit that the 1% didn't get there on their own, they got there by inheritance and using ill-gotten advantage to game the system. When we don't talk about politics liars and other bad actors act with impunity and we arrive where we are today - 80% of conservatives actually believe the election was stolen. When we don't talk about religion, and again don't confront bad actors, we get a century of abuse by the Catholic church, and evangelical Protestants attempting to take over the country in spite of the First Amendment. I've never been afraid to talk about Money, Politics or Religion. It's a taboo that led us to the world we have today and it should be relegated to history.
Wsb27 (CT)
@Al exactly. And who's to say that all of these social mores aren't engineered by the elite to retain power?
TxnLady (TX)
@Al I really, really like this comment.
Laurie (ID)
Overall I agree, but I also try to take into account: time, place, context (i.e. reason for the gathering, who is hosting/attending, is the discussion focused on gossipy or mean class judgements or general observations and larger questions of societal inequities?) and the wishes of the people involved to participate in the discussion. Most folks don’t like to be lectured “at” after they have said they want to change the topic and they won’t be as receptive to your thoughts beyond that point anyway.
AnnieKAnchorage (Your Town, USA)
Re: dog shelter. Call the zoning office first -- let them handle it. It's a bio hazard for the ground water and her dogs are stepping in it, so it's inside her house.
Karen (Bay Area)
Agree. No need to engage the offensive neighbor. I’d also connect with my realtor as well: was this casual dog shelter disclosed at the time of sale? To the newcomers: did you not notice the dogs when home shopping?
Linda Carlson (Sequim, Clallam County WA)
@AnnieKAnchorage Call the heath department, too. In Seattle, we had a neighbor who didn't pick up the poop. Result: RATS! Another neighbor called the health department, which immediately sent out an inspector. The law in that city is (I believe) that excrement must be removed within 24 hours.
DJS (New York)
@Karen What realtor ? Why do you assume that a realtor was involved, or that a home was purchased? A "casual dog shelter" at a neighboring home is not a material defect which would require disclosure .
Kelly (New England)
My family had a rupture over how property was handled. I’ve never met my second cousins. If one of their parents called me up to rehash old details from long-deceased relatives I’d just think they were loony-tunes and want nothing to do with them. Ma’am, bad mouthing this young woman’s grandmother only serves your grudge issues and does nothing for her. You won. Move on.
Doreen (Queens)
@Kelly My mother stopped speaking to one of her uncles when I was an infant. I didn't know him or his children - my mother must have avoided taking us to any family events he would be at. When I was an adult, she told me the reason and while her uncle did some things that understandably upset her , mostly what her telling the story did was tell me that she could hold a grudge over a couple of fairly minor incidents for 40 years.
DJS (New York)
@Doreen My guess is that your mother wanted to spare you from the truth. I have a feeling that something far more serious happened.
Merlin (Minneapolis, MN)
If someone is not likely to remember you and you call them with something like this, it is the only thing they will remember you for, right? You won the case and this kid had nothing to do with it. This is about making a parting shot. If this sister in law really lived her life this way it's unlikely this one episode is the smoking gun the people around her need to know the whole story.
H (West of the Mississippi)
What is "outrageous" is your response to "Neighbor". 1. These people are "newcomers" to a small town. They need to chill. 2. Hiring someone to clear the property is expensive. It is not cheap to take care of the needs to homeless dogs. What you're asking is ridiculous. 3. They bought the house and moved without checking out the neighborhood? 100% their problem, then.
MJ (Northern California)
@H A public nuisance is a public nuisance, regardless of how long someone has lived somewhere. It sounds like this neighbor isn't the only one bothered: "but nobody wants to be the bad guy and confront her."
DJ (CA)
@H If you don't have the resources to take care of the needs of ~15 homeless dogs, then you should be limiting the number to how many you do have the resources to care for. If the woman isn't cleaning up after the dogs, she's not caring for them properly.
H (West of the Mississippi)
@DJ You don't know that she's not caring for the dogs properly. Unless you're a neighbor, you have no way of judging that. Maybe the "newcomers" are just being whiny. Also, she was there first.
April (NYC)
LW2: because apparently people are surprised about the aside. As long as you don’t care in a small town that a guy might be bragging to everyone listening that he nailed both sisters. I’ve seen that one happen before. In a small town, especially that’s conservative, this gets him high fives and her looking like the fool and no one wants the fool for anything but to use. Talk to your sister and find out her concern.
RX (Bay Area)
I’m from a small conservative town that is exactly like this. There are a small number of good men in these small towns but that does not prevent the good old boys from making their gross, regressed, misogynistic jokes and comments. For decades. My sincere advice to a young single woman in a small conservative town - who is not similarly conservative - is to do whatever it takes to move away. If that is just not possible, establish your social circle with newcomers who probably aren’t as conservative plus the few non neandrathal men who stayed or came back after college.
Patricia (Florida)
I always thought a husband could not disinherit his wife. The house rightfully should go to the wife when the husband dies.
MJ (Northern California)
@Patricia Maybe the deceased husband bought it with his brother before he married the woman. In that case it would be his separate property, and she wouldn't have a claim, regardless. And just because he didn't leave her the house, doesn't mean he disinherited her. There may have been other assets he left to her, like investments, etc. Finally note that a court ruled against her. That's a big clue right there.
TDD (Florida)
@Patricia The issue is governed by state laws. Florida law is as you presume--but only IF it was their homestead property. If it was a second home for rental or vacation this does not apply. Further, many other states do not even require the homestead to go to the spouse.
Carol (Evanston)
The money comments seem benign and off-handed. Policing other people’s comments - not so much.
Fox (Seattle)
"Kid, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but just because someone's related to you doesn't mean they can't be a complete slimeball. Just ask anyone with the last name Trump. Your grandma was a crook and a swindler and if there's any justice in the universe she's getting poked in the nether regions by a pitchfork for the rest of eternity." In other words, there's a time to be nice and a time to be blunt, and when someone wrongs you, getting one or two levels of the sevenfold curse out of the way personally ain't such a bad idea.
Uofc English (Wilmette)
@Fox Wow! I think the letter writer is the person you describe. Not a pretty person. And it is a bad idea from a bad person.
Fox (Seattle)
@Uofc English Can't help it. I'm from Massachusetts originally, and we've all got a little Bill Burr in us.
Me (NY)
Regarding the sisters: 1. Don’t date your sister’s ex. It’s just wrong 2. If you ask for permission don’t be upset when you don’t get it. 3. There may be more to the story then they had sex; maybe the ex assaulted the sister. So the “don’t date him” is actually an attempt to protect the sister.
Steve (NH)
@Me Plausible reasons, but "It's just wrong" is just a made up social construct that sounds a lot like controlling women's behavior. It's her decision. That said, I agree that there may be more to this guy that is worth knowing in advance.
Me (NY)
It’s not about policing women. I’d say the same for two brothers. It’s about respecting family members.
Mrs_I (Toronto, Canada)
@Me If the other sister truly respected and cared for the LW's safety and well-being, she would've said, "Don't date the guy. I have my reasons. Here's why..." For the sister to point-blank tell LW not to date him (and he wasn't even a long-term serious boyfriend to begin with!) with no specific, valid reasons given, sounds more like a possessive, controlling issue on the sister's part. Not a good look, and certainly not fair or justified.
kozarrj (mn)
Given that Mr. Galanes has only sometimes limited or incomplete information from his questioners, I think that his responses, under the circumstances and, in each instance, seem eminently sensible.
Nellie McClung (Canada)
Dog Shelter. Mosquitos aren't a nuisance because there's dogs next door. Don't pile onto the issue. It's bad enough. I agree with the Ethicist. Suggest you check online for local regulations.
Astrid (Nebraska)
@Nellie McClung This is Social Q's, not The Ethicist.
Nellie McClung (Canada)
@Astrid Oops...
Passion for Peaches (left coast)
I like your answer to the first letter! Good observation on the strange detail that the BIL was going to leave his half of a jointly owned home to his bother, not to his own spouse. There is probably more to that story than we will ever know. I question the motives of the letter writer, in wanting to tell the granddaughter what happened. I think her motive here is to “win” in this imagined contest of loyalties. What is likely to happen, if she badmouths this relative’s dead grandparents, is the relative will think she’s a nasty person and will avoid the great aunt (?). I would. I’m puzzled over your answer to Sister, though. Why does it matter that the guy she’s interested in and the sister who moved away may have had sex during the “few weeks” they dated in high school? We don’t own people just because we’ve been intimate with them. I agree that it’s important to determine whether there is a trauma-based reason for her sister to object to the date with this guy, but if it’s just possessiveness or regret over a short, high school relationship more than a dozen years ago, that’s just silly. When people talk about other people’s money or status, I excuse myself and find someone else to talk to or something else to do. It’s crass behavior to gossip in that way. If Neighbor’s neighbor has enough dog waste sitting around that the smell is unbearable, then the dog rescuer is keeping animals in inhumane and dangerous conditions. I would report her to the health department.
Me (NY)
Regarding the last letter: did you not notice the dogs and their mess before you bought the house? There are reasons to visit a property multiple times before you buy; this is one of them!
Anne Marie (Chicago)
@Me Did you try to buy recently? It’s getting better, but a year ago, if you weren’t quick AND well above asking, you weren’t getting the house.
GBR (The Northeast)
“……if your sister doesn’t persuade you with a reasonable argument, I wish you the best of luck in dating her ex (with whom she may have had sex).” How / why is it relevant whether the sister had sex with this man 10+ years ago?
Steve (NH)
@GBR It could have a bearing as to the attitude this guy may have had about sex and the circumstances. If they just dated and then it flickered out, it suggests a different tier of intimacy that may reveal deeper expectations about this guy (and the sister, for that matter) or other quirks which could be useful to know in advance. You'd be surprised what guys come up with during sex as their pleasure requirements.
Kohl (Ohio)
@GBR Right, wrong or indifferent: there's a lot of people who would not be able to get past that.
Linda (Texas)
Maybe the sister needs to make a list of all the guys she dated or had sex with so the sister who stayed in the tiny small town knows which guys are off limits. 'snarky emoji' What's up with girl friends or sisters expecting that you can't date someone they dated??
Pdianek (Virginia)
@Linda Perhaps the ex is a sexual predator -- the LW needs to actually talk with her sister to find out.
grace thorsen (syosset, ny)
In terms of talking about other people's money, I ran into this with my brother and his wife who, just baldly and straight out, on the rush of the first draught of alcohol for the day, asked me how much money I make. I said none-ya, trying to make a joke, as in none of your business. However, my efforts to deflect and joke were not received well, and I found out that after that suddenly tense lunch, they looked up my salary on -line and told everyone anyway.. So you may not want to gossip about money, but these days everything is on-line at the click of a google, and we may need new armor and attitudes to live with pervasive public knowledge.. Just a thought.
Fox (Seattle)
@grace thorsen What are you, a professional athlete? You can find a decent range for the job description and geographic location on Glassdoor (and I have, shortly before patting myself on the back for my shrewd negotiation for my current salary), but that won't pin down what any given person actually makes unless that information is public. As for the people who "told everyone anyway", you're a better person than I, because I'd have slugged them the next time I saw them.
Linda Carlson (Sequim, Clallam County WA)
@Fox If you live in Washington state, you don't have to be a professional athlete to have your salary published. Any school district employee's wages are online, for example. Probably true for any county, city or state government position, too. Of course, not true for corporate or small business jobs.
DJ (CA)
@Fox I believe the salaries of government employees/public officials are a matter of public record. I work for a state university and our salaries are published every year.
Kate (Tempe)
My darling husband likes to feed the birds. I have objected to this: I know they can forage for themselves and that feeding them attracts pigeons, and besides, I hate how they deposit droppings everywhere. I just put up with it. Then one day he received a call from the city. An anonymous neighbor was so frustrated with the mess that he contacted the mayor’s office and made a formal complaint. My husband would have to appear in court and pay a hefty fine if the nuisance continued. Husband was miffed because neighbor did not talk to him first, but I was glad not to have the aggravation of a conversation with annoyed neighbor, and even more gratified by not having to put up with bullying pigeons scattering feathers and chasing wrens away. No more droppings or feathers, either. Just sweet birdsong. The dog lover is a good person with a blind spot, but your street is not the local animal shelter. That is a community responsibility.
M.H. (NYC)
@Kate Did YOU make the call to the mayor's office? :-)
Evan (Minneapolis, MN)
@Kate If you hated it, as his wife, and brought it up with him to no avail, why do you think the neighbors doing so would have changed anything?
Kate (Tempe)
@Evan Not guilty of the charge; He decided his love of birds did not extend to paying a fine. Everyone is happy now.
Narcissa (Chester)
So I've thought about this one a bit and the idea that simply leaving his share of the house to his wife and children isn't swindling the LW. Or at least unless there is some long story of lending money etc. and etc and even then, why didn't you make that contract on paper with a lifetime use clause on house? Absent that, the house was not yours. And had your brother-in-law died without a will, the state would have allocated the house exactly as it was in the will. Assuming each half was owned equally. The only way I suppose you would win is if the house was co-owned in a way that a will wasn't needed because ownership reverted to you--but then she didn't 'swindle' you, she likely misunderstood. And no doubt thinks you threw her out of her own home.
MJ (Northern California)
@Narcissa Did you read the letter? The swindle was that she got him to change his will when he was not of "sound mind," which is a requirement for making or amending a will.
Uofc English (Wilmette)
@MJ I think that is questionable in itself. The guy, like so many, failed his family by not updating his will before his injury. Trust me he knew it should go to them. The letter writer should not have fought this There is the law and then there is doing the right thing. She was not doing the right thng. She was the theif.
M (NYC)
It seems to me this letter writer feels guilty, and rightly so. The brothers jointly owned the house, and when one brother died, his wife wanted to keep her share of the house to leave to her daughter and her grandchildren (including the great niece in question). Instead, the other brother and his wife, the letter writer, took that share of the house for themselves, depriving the other brother's family of their rightful inheritance. No need for the letter writer to contact the great niece with a sob story about how she, the letter writer, almost got swindled. I'm sure the great niece--who actually did get swindled!--has already heard all about it.
MJ (Northern California)
@M writes: " Instead, the other brother and his wife, the letter writer, took that share of the house for themselves, depriving the other brother's family of their rightful inheritance" They didn't "take" it at all. The brother *left* to him (for whatever reason). There's a huge difference.
DJS (New York)
@MJ The LW and her husband would not have had to take take the widow to court had the brother "left" it to him."
Gabriela (Richards)
@MJ But he didnt leave. He amended his will. As any father would have done.
Mary (NC)
“They paid less than $500,000 for that house.” Real estate transactions are public record and can be accessed easily by the public, normally online now, so this is not gossip.
DJS (New York)
@Mary "They paid less than $500,000 for that house"-said no one who lives anywhere near where I live.
Bedora (WA state)
Wow, absolutely strongly agree with Ethicist's response to One and Two. Couldn't have said it better. The Third one is also correct in a sense but living in a small town that you moved into with people whose families have been there generations, can be a hornet's nest - even if you're right. I would suggest waiting a little longer. Get the lay of the land, do some digging, and see how bad it is. Approach this situation with care. Small towns are a club that you don't gain immediate access to just because you moved there. Your life could become very unpleasant if you rile the natives.
kozarrj (mn)
@Bedora Play the old "you gotta play along to get along" routine. No thanks.
Astrid (Nebraska)
@Bedora This is Social Q's, not The Ethicist.
EW (🌍)
I am actually very curious about LW1. Did her husband also have a will leaving his part of the house to the brother? That would have left LW1 out in the cold. Obviously, the matter was cleared up years ago but most of us, I think, would like to have a better understanding of the circumstances.
reader (Chicago)
I agree with many commenters that there simply isn’t enough information in the first letter to judge the ethics of the “home-swindling.” There are many possible scenarios. However, I do not agree with many commenters that the situation may have resulted in the brother’s family being thrown out of the home or left homeless - the fact that the LW won in court and is very convinced of the sister-in-law’s greed suggest that potential homelessness was not a motivating factor. It seems more likely that the LW’s family was living in the home at the time, or it was an investment property, and that this was viewed as fair by the brothers for reasons we don’t know. We can’t know either way, but it’s extremely unlikely that both families were living in the house together.
Nowhere Man (Nowhereland)
Re: the dog shelter lady. The first thing the letter writer says is that they are newcomers to a small town. They obviously had to see the state of the dog rescuer’s yard nextdoor before they moved in. One cannot win a complaint of nuisance case if the nuisance already existed when the complainer purposefully moved next door to it. Further, in a small town there may not be any ordinances about the number of dogs a person can keep on an acre property. Laws involving the keeping of pets (and livestock) are usually local, not statewide. For example, where I live it is illegal to keep chickens, but a few streets over, chickens are allowed. Perhaps the letter writer could offer to assist with the rescue effort by volunteering to clean up the yard themselves. Maybe they could recruit other neighbors to help as well. Thereby alleviating the problem of the smell and flies, fostering community among neighbors and serving a charitable organization that is saving the lives of the animals.
JJ (Chicago)
Excellent suggestion!
Susan (USA)
@Nowhere Man You are incorrect about your first assumption: that she could not win a nuisance complaint because the problem was already there when she moved in. The law is the law. If there is no law regarding nuisance barking then she doesn't have a leg to stand on. And as for your idea about all the neighbors getting together to clean up the lady's yard: WOW. How many folks would feel good about your neighbors cleaning up your dog poop for you? Jeez.
Kristen (Montana)
LW3: gossip is bad. However, thanks to Phillip for the acknowledgment that the rule “don’t talk about money” protects privilege. If we want a brighter future, we need to talk about the fact that my neighbor cleans toilets for $10/hour while real estate agents in my town are scoring quarter million dollar commissions.
NK (NYC)
Re Sister's letter about dating her sister's ex. It might not have been a big deal to Sister, but it might be for her sister. We don't know enough about the relationship between the sisters - is it a power play by the letter writer's sister? or by the letter writer? do the sisters still live in the same small town where memories might be long? Whatever the answers, I would hope the letter writer would honor her sister's feelings. I don't understand the (to me) gratuitous aside "(with whom she may have had sex)".
JL (NY)
@NK - and I don't understand why the 'aside' didn't say "with who she might have unwillingly had sex" - - - she needs to talk to her sister and get the full story.
ribbit (United States)
@NK as noted in previous comment, perhaps rape was involved, but even if it weren't I don't think the comment is gratuitous. Having any sort of sexual involvement with someone is still a significant big deal to many people with all kinds of emotional fallout. I understand there are plenty of people who feel otherwise and would therefore regard the comment as gratuitous; that's not my outlook. I agree that these 2 sisters need to have a serious conversation though.
Jon (NYC suburbs)
What could that kind of revelation possibly benefit anyone, but satisfy the spiteful urge of Great Aunt of LW1? It's deplorable for the elder generation to burden the innocent younger with the scars an old feud that has nothing to do with them.
L (NYC)
Re. Sister: there’s a reason you asked your sister before you accepted the guy’s invitation. Even you understood she might not be comfortable with it. That isn’t to say she’s being reasonable in objecting, but when it comes to these types of situations, people are anything but rational. Last weekend, I was at my college’s 25th reunion. My freshman roommate and I who were each other’s best friends in college, were talking to a guy from our freshman dorm. We were reminiscing and he asked us who our third roommate had been. When we named her, he put his head in his hands shamefully and seemed incredibly embarrassed. We asked him why he reacted that way, and he said, don’t you remember? I dated her for a few weeks freshman year! And yes, we sort of vaguely recalled that, but it’s been 29 years, he has three kids, the oldest of which is a pre-teen, and he’s so far had an incredibly successful career. It was crazy (and amusing) how a three-week failed romance decades ago transformed him into a shy young man again. All of which is to say — memories of young romance from decades earlier can turn entirely rational people into unreasonable teenage versions of themselves, so try to be understanding.
DJ (CA)
@L In fairness, LW never says she asked her sister - she called and told her. Perhaps subconsciously she was seeking permission, but I can easily see myself calling my sister in the same situation just to laugh a little at the oddity of a short-term long-ago boyfriend of hers asking me out.
Susan (USA)
@L And THAT is why I am not going to my 50th high school reunion this week: who wants to revisit relationships that happened 50 years ago with people you don't even know anymore? At the 45th, I was sexually harassed by not one, not two, but three creepy guys who just could not get over the fact that I didn't want to kiss them then...or now. UGH.
Jane Elizabeth (CT)
@L - "memories of young romance from decades earlier can turn entirely rational people into unreasonable teenage versions of themselves, so try to be understanding" Absolutely!! 100% agree. Especially when it moves beyond just the memories.
Jenny K (San Francisco, CA)
LW1 shows that one needs to write a letter without holes. Any empathetic or thorough reader would immediately wonder why someone would leave a house to their brother and not their wife and children. If LW1 had mentioned that this house was promised back to pay for a huge loan or in a swap with other properties and wasn’t the wife’s primary home, then everybody would be discussing her question instead of the ethics of the past actions. But she didn’t, so hmmm.
Hiding In The Woods (Us)
I worked in a place where gossip was the usual conversation, and often the same subjects over and over. I never thought anything of it. Because of a schedule change I started taking break with a different group, in which the conversation was much less gossip. I realized it was because whenever someone started, one person would gently say “gossip makes me really uncomfortable”. The whole conversation would move on to something more pleasant or interesting than the same old complaints and envy and nastiness.
Sara (Los Angeles)
Regarding money: home prices are public record, so it's not really gossip. I think if people talked about money more, we'd have better educated people making better decisions, whether out shopping or negotiating at a new job.
Mary (NC)
@Sara correct. So are tax records. I don't see why people feel it unseemly to discuss issues of public record, which are not in any way, shape or form in the gossip category.
Merlin (Minneapolis, MN)
@Sara There is an obvious difference between self informing and research and simply wanting to peer into someone's wallet.
Kohl (Ohio)
@Sara To your point, there are a lot of jobs/careers that are under-pursued; largely because most people would have never guessed how well they paid.
wspwsp (Connecticut)
If town has dog ordinance send anonymous call to canine control. Steer clear of sister’s x. Let go of “swindle,” as likely two sides to this and it is over. Just change subject if you don’t like any conversation, or make excuse an leave for a bit.
Steve (Chicago)
Thank you, Philip, for acknowledging the lack of explanation on why LW1 were willed the other half of the house in the first place. Forget the personal baggage - it was a joint asset they inherited outright, and they are upset 20 years later that the brother's kids and grandkids are not OK with this coup? If they're truly interested in closure, see it from their perspective, and make amends by compensating this family by the amount they should have inherited - half of this joint asset plus interest.
Insignifiant Human 😶 (Montreal)
If the rescue lady is so nice, she should be opened to discuss. If not, then she’s not that nice, right? There’s a reason zoning exists.
Ellen K. (Hellertown, PA)
LW 1: breathtaking, really, that someone should feel so entitled to the home of a widow and her children.
cds333 (Washington, D.C.)
I completely agree with the answers to LW1 and LW2. LW1 should not, under any circumstances dump the details of the transaction involving the house on a great-niece whom she barely knows. It sounds as though the writer would like to get to know her better, and I agree with Mr. Galanes that she should just reach out with a social invitation. Only if they become close and the niece starts to ask questions about the rupture in the relationship between her grandmother and the LW should she consider providing details about what occurred. I expect that many will agree with LW 2 that the sister is being "idiotic" in objecting to the LW dating her ex. Maybe she is. Or maybe, as Mr. Galanes says, there is more to the ex-relationship than the LW knows. But I don't think it's worth a rupture in the relationship with the sister to proceed despite her objections. If she can't bring the sister around, I think she should politely decline the invitation. But I disagree with the advice on letter #3. I hate gossip and would also want to avoid the talks about other people's money, but saying "this is none of our business" comes across as scolding. Repeating it would probably cause resentment that would damage the relationship. Far better to make a joke or interrupt with "the funniest thing happened to me the other day. I've been dying to tell you about it" and then steering the talk in a different direction.
Northinsouth (Deep South)
Perhaps I'm being ungenerous here, but LW1 doesn't strike me as a closure letter; it's a letter to either assuage her own guilt and/or exact some weird post-mortal revenge for having to go through the court case. Neither is useful for the young woman, and she should leave her alone.
Eileen (Ithaca NY)
@Northinsouth My thoughts exactly. I do not see even a whiff of generosity from LW1, just guilt.
Someone (Somewhere)
@Northinsouth My take as well. Very odd.
Northinsouth (Deep South)
Perhaps I'm being ungenerous here, but LW1 doesn't strike me as a closure letter; it's a letter to either assuage her own guilt and/or exact some weird post-mortal revenge for having to go through the court case. Neither is useful for the young woman, and she should leave her alone.
Kohl (Ohio)
@Northinsouth Yeah, under no circumstances does the young relative want to hear a drop of what LW1 has to say about the matter.
Bill W (New York)
For LW3, if the lady is running a rescue, it is no doubt a costly venture. Perhaps you could offer a donation of food or a check to help with vet bills while you are over there. Not obligated to, obviously, but it would be nice gesture to show that you are not her enemy.
Carl! (NJ)
@Bill W I love that idea! If it were me, I'd volunteer to help out by scooping the poop in the backyard once a day (or some other, *strictly defined* schedule), but then, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool shelter volunteer. Other folks might not find that idea so enticing. :-)
LAM (Chicago)
“If she refuses, head to the zoning office. Family prominence is not omnipotence.” OK, but in so doing know that you’re setting yourself up for long-term tension with the neighbor, which might be less pleasant than some dogs barking.
M.H. (NYC)
@LAM: If the neighbor doesn't care about subjecting others to "the smell and the clouds of flies and mosquitoes" from 15(!) dogs, it doesn't sound like she's apt to be a good neighbor in any case.
Tim (Pennsylvania)
@LAM You are setting up problems with all the neighbors who dote on the nice dog lady.
ellie k. (michigan)
Re those dogs: I've never found it a good idea to attempt a discussion with a neighbor about a problem they are causing. Every time I've tried this, being very polite and nice, it hasn't worked out. Actually it gave them an issue they could use to annoy me when they later claimed, unjustified, I did something they didn't like. And ordinance enforcement carries no weight; they 'talk' to offenders and nothing changes except they see the complainant as a nuisance. Have to go now and put up my new curtains to block the neighbor's high intensity floodlights (shades aren't sufficient).
cds333 (Washington, D.C.)
@ellie k. I completely agree. I've tried that polite conversation and it has never worked for me either. If the neighbor were considerate enough to respond positively to such a discussion, she wouldn't be acting this way in the first place.
Cheryl (Yorktown)
@ellie k. I hate those floodlights! Ilive in a suburb but one with a lot of wooded areas -- Someone tell me why someone who wants to "get out of the city" then wants to make their yard look like a used car lot on in a commercial area?
K (Bloomington IL)
@Cheryl I truly sympathize with you, but know that not all neighbors are so ungenerous. Mine agreed to set her floodlight to turn on in response to a motion sensor, rather than stay on all night, when I asked politely. She still has an unshaded porch light on all night, but it's not nearly as bright and I am happy to compromise. Here's a link to a list of further actions one might take to deal with a neighbor's intrusive security light: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/dealing-with-light-pollution-from-neighbor.html
bo (north of New york)
Why would the allegedly "swindled" party contact the great-niece to pass on this "information?" How weird. Poor Mr. Galanes hears from all kinds of people, doesn't he? The letter-writer has less-than-zero self-awareness of how the letter is coming across; the best that can be said is that unless there is a lot more to the story - for example, that the letter-writer actually paid for the entire house, and/or had irrevocably bequeathed their share to the brother, and/or had done some other massive, asymmetric contribution, and/or were very poor due to favors to the brother, there is literally nothing redeemable here, and even if there were, "wipe the slate for the next generation" would likely still make sense. Truly extraordinary, but it does give readers insight into how it is that families fracture and that sad reality is valuable, at least.
DJS (New York)
@bo "Poor Mr. Galanes hears from all kinds of people, doesn't he?" "Poor Mr. Galenes " ?!
Logan (Oakland)
In regards to smelly neighbor- did you know the situation before you moved in? Smelled and heard them while looking at the property? If that’s the case, it will be hard to convince somebody to change their habits when you chose to live next to them.
polymath (British Columbia)
You mean "in regard to".
Logan (Oakland)
@polymath thank you!
Wsb27 (CT)
@Logan very gracious response on your part to a potentially snarky comment!
pmg (NC)
Like Philip Galanes, I found myself wondering about the circumstances of the sister-in-law who "stole" half the house (LW1). Was this a second marriage? Did the husband write the will before he remarried? Would his death leave the sister-in-law homeless and in poverty? The letter writer evidently won her suit, but many states try to forestall this situation (spouse losing her home) by being common property states or using a "marriage portion" law (Louisiana). I'm not a lawyer, so would be interested in how lawyers weigh in on this.
J (NY)
@pmg Very suspicious that we are missing critical information regarding why the house was willed to the brother and not the wife to begin with. Things would probably make a little more sense with that additional knowledge.
reader (Chicago)
@pmg It was my impression that the LW’s family lived in the home, but that the brother’s family did not, and that is why he was going to give up his half, or that perhaps it was at the time just an investment property. Because the LW won in court and is very convinced of the sister-in-law’s greed, that seems like to be the most likely scenario. I doubt they all lived in the house together, and I doubt the sister-in-law ended up homeless.
TakeThis Waltz (Eurasia)
@J Maybe, but either way, what the letter writer is asking strikes me as odd or worse: they want permission to speak ill of the dead, and of those who lost their case.
C C (Bay Area, CA)
It doesn’t say, but I’m curious why a father would give up his half of a double family home to his brother when he has a wife and children. Were they to be left out in the cold when he died? Perhaps this was a rental property and he had another home, but if not, I totally understand a mother trying to secure the future safety of her family.
AP (Astoria)
@C C The best I can figure is "keeping it in the immediate family" but if that's the case this wife should not feel proprietary about it. But it does seem awful. I'm guessing that if "the kids were complicit" they were also adults and out of the house, but still. For a widow to be booted from her home...
Evan (Minneapolis, MN)
@AP But "kids were complicit" makes it sound bad. Sounds to me like those kids agreed with their mother: that their dad shouldn't give their house to someone else.
Sigrd (Midgard)
@C C It does say why... He'd just had brain surgery and was in a confused state.
M.A. (Rhode Island)
The husband was supposed to leave his half of the house to his brother rather than his wife? On the face of it, at least, that strikes me as appalling. The LW better not be expecting sympathy.
Evan (Minneapolis, MN)
@M.A. I don't know the circumstances, but I'm inclined to agree. It would seem odd to leave any of my assets to my brother rather than my wife and children.
Maciek (Poland, EU)
@M.A. Maybe it was their childhood home, split in half, or LW1 wanted to make it into a single family? May make sense, especially if it wasn't brother's only property. If the widow had somewhere else to live and just wanted money, that would be as appalling as the letter suggest.
DJS (New York)
@M.A. I find it hard to believe that the husband intended to leave half of his wife to his brother rather than to his wife and children. It sounds to me as if was LW1 and her husband who swindled the widow.
M.H. (NYC)
Seems pretty obvious to me that LW1 doesn't care about "closure" for her niece; she just wants to get her side of the story out there. Put down your weapon, lady! You already won!
Mrs_I (Toronto, Canada)
@M.H. Less "her side of the story", more like bad-mouthing a deceased SIL. Just shameful.
JAS (Dallas)
@M.H. Couldn't have said it better. How Great Aunt could even pen such a letter for all the world to see shows how little respect she has for courtesy, kindness and compassion and, especially, for her young great niece.
HJK (Chicago Area)
LW2 could also say "Let's change the subject. I hate talking about other people's money." Or "Talking about other's money makes me uncomfortable" Might make it easier on the other people in the conversation - "it's none of our business" sounds like a rebuke which no one likes to receive.
Eileen (Ithaca NY)
@HJK Reminds me of the time a friend inquired about a supposed affair a mutual friend was having and I responded, "Gosh, isn't it awful the way people gossip?" as if to scold the unknown person who leaked the story to my friend. That shut down all inquiries immediately without resorting to scolding my friend herself (who knew I would know details but I was not about to acknowledge anything).
grace thorsen (syosset, ny)
@HJK I ran into this with my brother and his wife who, just baldly and straight out, on the rush of the first draught of alcohol for the day, asked me how much money I make. I said none-ya, trying to make a joke, as in none of your b usiness. However, my efforts to deflect and joke were not received well, and I found out that after that suddenly tense lunch, they looked up my salary on -line and told everyone anyway.. So you may not want to gossip about money, but these days everything is on-line at the click of a google, and we may need new armor and attitudes to live with pervasive public knowledge.. Just a thought.
Ken (NH)
@HJK change the subject without judgement. If this fails after a few times, then let your preferences be known or talk to someone else.
on-line reader (Canada)
With regards to the sneaky grandmother, the granddaughter had no part in it and so it would be "ancient history" to her. Some people aren't very ethical when it comes to settling wills. The letter-writer ended up with a sour taste in her mouth over it and probably for good reason. And sometimes, if the behaviour is truly outrageous (or the person has a hard time accepting that he/she isn't going to get his/her way), families break up. If she is really piqued about it, she should write a letter, "To be opened upon my death", in which she can posthumously pour out her grievances. And she should (if she really wants to) find some other way to re-connect to her family. But that ship might have sailed some time ago.
Justine (Montana)
I think the “to be opened after my death” letter is even worse than contacting the young niece now! Really? The poor girl opens a letter and all this nasty “house stealing” business is vomited into her lap and she can’t even respond? How cowardly. It’s just like people that leave you a mean voicemail then block you. Leave the poor girl alone.
Martine (Texas)
@on-line reader And her executor should have the sense to throw it in the trash rather than passing it on. The LW#1 sounds a slightly batty grudge holder.
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