How do we resolve a dispute over inheritance of Mom's rings?

13 answers | Last updated: Jan 23, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

There's a dispute over inheritance of Mom's rings. My mother recently passed away and her will stipulated that her estate should be divided among her five children. She lived in a small apartment and all the siblings divided up her personal property without discord, except for her engagement and wedding band. Her wishes for the disposal of the ring are in disagreement. She told my brother that the ring was for his daughter and my sister, who is the executor of the estate, said that she told her she could have it. Now they are not speaking with each other. How can we come to an inheritance dispute resolution?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

If your mother’s will specified only that her property should be divided among her children—a common provision for parents who live and die in hope that they’ll all get along peacefully—and left no specific direction for who gets the rings, then you must wrestle over how to distribute them.

If your mother’s will named only her children as beneficiaries, then her granddaughter has no true legal claim on the ring. But it sounds as if the family is getting hung up on the “he said, she said” nature of the alleged promises for the ring, so that is what matters.

You might try calling a family meeting to solve the standoff; it sounds as if you’ve all been able to behave quite chummily about all matters except for this last one. How you ultimately resolve ownership of the rings is limited only by the imaginations and flexibility of those involved. And bear in mind that another subterranean goal is to have the family members speak to one another some day; you really don’t want them going to their own graves in a snit over this.

If worst comes to worst, one resolution would be to sell off the rings—and divide the proceeds equally among the five children. That takes care of it, but has the unfortunate effect of putting the rings out of the family—and those things are likely to have even more sentimental value than monetary worth.

Some other possibilities:

  • The granddaughter and daughter could share custody of the rings; one would get to have and hold them on alternate years, for example. Could help build in a sense of fun and sharing—if there’s fun and sharing to be had.
  • The daughter could have legal ownership of the rings during her life—and agree to leave them to the granddaughter, her niece, when she dies. This might work especially well if there is a large age differential.
  • The two could draw straws for ownership. It is harder to hold a grudge against the determining straw than it is to begrudge a human.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

The rings can be appraised and the daughter and sister can pay the other family members for them.

Jaye answered...

This very thing happened in my family...My Grandmother (who I cared for in my home) did not tell us what to do with her engagement ring.  It is a beautiful small solitare diamond.  It is not large,  but beautiful.  EVERYONE , my cousin my Aunt , my sister,  in my family had an opinion about who should have this ring.  My Father (Grandma's only surviving son) had to hear all these opinions,   he got frusturated and the little ring sits in a box in my Mom's dresser drawer.   My parents now 82 and 84 have never told me what to do with the ring so I may have to have this discussion again when they are gone.    

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mother was the eldest daughter and inherited her mother's wedding ring and diamond.  As the only daughter, my mother gave me those rings years ago (when she was in her 80s) when she emptied the safety deposit box.  As the only daughter, I will inherit my mother's rings.

As I have no children (and I think even if I did) and I view my role as holding these rings "in trust" so that they can be passed on to the "right" recipients down the line. 

My niece--the only female in the next generation--is getting married soon, but her fiance already purchased her a very different type of ring.  Besides, she is very disorganized and loses things easily.

For these reasons, I'm waiting for the next generation and/or I will leave the task of passing on these rings to my brother.  We are agreed that the rings should be kept in the family.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Thankfully, my Mother gave me her jewelry prior to her passing with the exception of two rings. One went to my brother (prior to Mom's passing) - the other was to go to the third sibling "if she behaves herself". My brother (Executor) gave the ring to the other sibling (after Mom's passing - she wouldn't come see Mom even after being told Mom was "terminal" (her social calendar wouldn't allow it). He was hoping the "jester of giving her Mom's ring" would ease the third sibling and avoid a lawsuit! We are still in Court - yes, she did file a lawsuit! I want the ring to be appraised and divided among the 3 siblings! (She definitely didn't "behave herself") We all knew the third sibling would be filing a lawsuit!

In Mom's Will, it stated "to be divided among the siblings in equal shares" OR "if they cannot decide, my Exector will have the final decision". Since it wasn't received prior to Mom's passing, it is part of the Estate - but the attorneys keep "skirting the issue". Mom's Executor unexpectedly and shockingly passed away before we got Mom's Estate closed!

Is this part addressed in your Mother's Will? Check it out!

Sending hugs and prayers - it gets so difficult when family members turn into "creatures" no one recognizes!

A fellow caregiver answered...

Just a note to let every know how this was settled. The estate lawyer advised to get the rings appraised and sell them as it was part of the estate that should be divided among all five siblings. No one wanted to do that. But another sister had a great plan which was agreed upon by all. She took the rings to a jeweler. The largest diamond went into a necklace for the niece (brother's daughter) and all the smaller stones were added to a earrings for each of the four daughters along with a small birthstone of the mother and the father. Everyone got something from the rings as a memory of mom and dad. Things are not perfect, but it's not all out war anymore either.

Inheritance advisor answered...

The numerous answers to this question reveal the importance of writing things down before you die. How easy it is to solve these problems for your family while you are alive to do so! In my new book "The Million Dollar Dishrag-An Effective and Powerful Plan to Avoid an Inheritance Battle After You Die" this issue along with other pertinent ones are addressed. Deal with it while you are in control of your family's happiness. Susan Eisen

A fellow caregiver answered...

This is just a version of the eternal crap that continues to bring angst to families once a person dies without being specific. My father, an only child, told me 20 years ago right after my grandmother passed away, that she wanted me to hav her ring, too. She left everything in writing to my dad, an only child, but I was the oldest grandchild, a girl, and the one who was particularly close to her, almost like the daughter she never had. My mother, who is a fairly selfish person, who told me once that my grandmother had "stolen" me from her (she was 20 when she had me and I think really wasn't very excited about the day to day care of a baby nor was she very mature) and also told me that she "never really bonded with me", presented enough of a threat to my dad's happiness that he just gave it to her. He told me that when my mother passes away I would then inherit the ring and, as my parents are fairly wealthy, there would be "enough jewelry to go around" to all of my siblings and me then. The issue for me, particularly right after I lost my grandmother, is that SHE wanted ME to have it, not my mother. The real deal is that she did not write it down. Over the years I have heard from my middle sister, who is really, along with her husband, a shameless suck up to my parents, that my mother told her that she wanted either she or my other sister to get the ring and NEVER me. My mother and I have never really been close and, having been told and treated, like I am not really on the same status level as her other children, I am positive that I will never get the ring. My mother has also told me at times that she was thinking about resetting it, etc. I know this has been just to upset me. I am now in my 50's. I have some beautiful jewelry that my husband has purchased for me, along with a gorgeous engagement and wedding ring set. I don't "need" any more and I have over time learned to deal with the pain of losing my grandmother, so not physically having her ring is not as painful as it was when I learned so long ago, right after losing her, that I was supposed to have something she wanted me to have and my father gave it to my mother instead. I have let it go and emotionally that's the best for me. I live away from most of my family distance wise, and I know, even if I am 80 and see my sister wearing that ring, it will hurt, because my sister has known from the outset about the conversation that my dad had with me and why he gave it to my mother anyway. At this point, my husband's only brother has told my husband that he "thinks of mom's money as" his "retirement" and we know he has not prepared for it himself as we have. He lives close by to their mom and although she says she wants everybody to get along she has them both on her accounts JTROS and he basically writes all her bills and controls the checkbook. The minute she would pass away he could clean it out (her house is gone and all the contents sold so there is really at this point no reason for a will). She hates to even discuss that there could be a problem and has brought it up to my husband but is not willing to do anything to change ownership of the accounts to prevent any future issues, My brother in law's behavior and statements have convinced my husband he is planning to take it all and I think he's right.
What we have learned from all of this is to make sure we write everything down that matters to us and make SURE it gets done properly. It may not be what anyone particularly wants or doesn't want, but it is what we want and we will be clear so they can NEVER be mad after we are gone at each other, or hurt. That is, of all things, the most valuable take away from this issue. Learn from it and do not repeat it.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Being an only child, it was easy to know where my mom's jewelry and dad's things would go--to me. My mom gave me her beautiful costume jewelry (think rhinestones and crystals) while she was alive saying I should wear them to work. She also gave me her pink ring which I wore as a child not appreciating the value and she took it back only giving it to me before I died. My dad passed away a year after my mom so he just told me to take everything out of the safety deposit box--which included her engagement/wedding ring, his two pinky rings, and watches. When he passed I told my husband that the pinky rings are for our son when he graduates college. The watches can be for my husband and my mom's engagement/wedding ring, I have just decided to resize them and wear them. She never liked them and my parents had a horrible marriage together so there aren't good memories attached to them but between her marquise solitare being so beautiful and large and I just feel horrible about resetting or selling them, I'm just going to resize and wear them. I told my husband that when I die, not to give a lot of my jewelry to our son's wife when the time comes. One never knows what goes on in a divorce if it happens and I would hate to have my jewelry go to someone else.

Mom kb answered...

Oh how close to home this all reads for many of us. I will say even when in writing ,it doesn't always work out. My mother did have things verbally and in writing and still the person who wanted it. got changes made to read the way she wanted it. It actually happened on a number of things, my mom wrote them back and forth as this person complained and convinced her to make changes. Then in the end the executer had one copy and she had another that changed everything in her favor.That person also had the key to the content of the home and was the only close sibling to my mothers home. That person has always been so obsessed with stuff. Even though I know my mother intended things to come to me... ( funny ,some of them were mine and mom borrowed them) It just isn't worth the ugly arguing... You can't take it with you... I am happier knowing I had a good relationship with my mom and even though it does hurt when something like this happens, You will never enjoy having the item when you will only be reminded of the ugliness over it; rather than what you know mom wanted. I had to pray a lot and ask for my heart to be at peace over what happened to me. I will suggest the only way to ensure a person gets what you want to give them , is give it, when you are still living. However,don't be surprised if the needy one complains about that too. My mom had to ask me to let go of something she gave me so this person would stop wining about how they were suppose to get it. Again I say, it just isn't worth it. Life is too short to fight over anything!! Enjoy your life and keep your cherished memories of loved ones AND do not let anyone ",family included", steal your peace. Lift it all up in prayer and move on. If you dwell on it, you will only be unhappy and make yourself ill and you may not ever get the thing so now you are living a lose, lose, situation over and over. DON"T DO it !!!! Choose joy and a happy life!

4jmf answered...

This quite isn't an answer but a question relevant to the topic. My experience is with dividing deceased mother's jewelry and deceased aunt’s possessions. My mother passed away a few years ago and left a vague will regarding material possessions. When it came to dividing her jewelry--which wasn't a lot, but she had a few expensive items--my 2 older brothers wanted items for their wives. I am the only daughter and thought the usual course was: jewelry goes to the daughters. I took 4 items and 6 went to my brothers. One big issue was a 3 diamond ring & gold bracelet that I took. Their wives and daughters felt slighted because I choose the best of the pot. Fast forward to today. My mother's sister--who has no children--died recently, and now we are dividing her possessions to a larger pool of people. Since I was her POA (I live in the same city) and took care of her within the last few years, she has bequeathed me a full china set with additional pieces plus the china cabinet & a Swiss eggnog set, all verbally and tagged, and everyone knew this including my aunts sisters. She had much jewelry and I only received a piece from her years prior: an expensive Swiss watch. I received no jewelry recently, it was divided between other nieces. My brothers wives again are complaining I received too much and have recently criticized me in front of my aunts: I was not present. Now the situation is my brothers live out-of-town and are her executors. I am the only one that lives in the same city as my deceased aunt. I returned her house key, for I do not want any responsibility where the house is concerned. I feel they may want me to take care of the house because they may not want to travel to and fro. My reason for declining this responsibility is if anything should happen I could be accused and criticized, and there could be legalities as well. Any suggestions? Tired and fed up.

Zamora answered...

I am going through the same thing now. Before my mother passed she gave me her rings, appraised at $1000.00. I felt bad and told my brother I would give him half the appraisal since we are 50/50 on the will; I shouldn't have felt bad since my brother took all my fathers jewelry after he passed. Now my brother is the executor of the will and him and his wife wants half the jewelry. he has had the lawyer ask me for it. I am thinking of just sending the appraisals, but not sure whether I legally have to...??? The estate is worth over $600,000 and he may hold up the probate...not sure what to do..??

A fellow caregiver answered...

I need help here. My mom told me I was 'in charge' of distributing her jewelry. She had a few somewhat valuable pieces, one being he wedding band, and one a white gold Diamond. When she went in the hospital my sister took the jewelry she had on for safe keeping. Needless to say, she passed away. Here is the issue. My sisters daughter wants that ring. She texted me once while I was on vacation about it. Turned some of it around, saying her mom said it was okay for her to have, I said no. She could not have it. Then Christmas Day, my sister said something about it again. That she ( granddaughter) always talked to my mom about that ring, and blah blah blah. I said no, that is not going to happen. I have a feeling my sister already gave her the ring. I also feel as the oldest, she will take the ring and give it to her daughter. This is going to cause the only issue between us. Everything else has been divided between her, my brother and myself. My brother is the administrator. She left no will, except to verbally tell us personally, no witness ..that he was in charge of the money and I was in charge of jewelry. This has been making me physically and mentally sick. Any suggestions, thoughts advice? Not that this matters, but my sister is in her 70' s my brother his 60's and I just turned 50. They treat me like a child yet. She mothers me, and he has always been my protector. Thank you.