Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Guys, I Need Some Advice

OK, first of all - I'm sorry for a downer post, that has nothing to do with cats, or simple living, or minimalism, or anything else having to do with this blog - and that is admittedly a bit of a rant. But I really feel like I need some input from people who are completely removed from this situation.

So here's my conundrum. You might remember that my mother died suddenly back in 2013. She and I were pretty much estranged - which is a whole different topic, but somewhat relevant to the current situation.

Long story short - my parents divorced when I was 4 and my brother was 6. I'm not entirely sure how to describe the psychology of what happened next, other than to say that it was somewhat Freudian. Dad moved out, and my mother and brother became increasingly close, while my relationship with both my mother and brother became increasingly distant, hostile, and competitive. By the time I was in Jr. High school, I had basically moved into the basement of our house, and was, to a great extent, treated more like a roommate than a member of the family - or at least, that's how it felt from my end. And the distance and hostility between my mother and I only got worse from there.

By the time of her death, she and I would communicate a few times a year via email and that was about it. The distance was mostly my doing, because I simply couldn't take the hostility and other "stuff" (too complicated to go into) that was part and parcel of dealing with her.  Meanwhile, she and my brother had weekly phone conversations, spent all their holidays and vacations together, etc., and. well, that's basically the only significant relationship my brother has ever had - at least as far as I can tell. He's never had a close friend, or even a non-close friend, just work related acquaintances. He's always had a distant and adversarial relationship with my father, and he's never dated anyone or really had much of any social interactions outside of those with my mother - at least that I know of.

So when she died suddenly, I felt like it was only proper for me to take a backseat to my brother in terms of settling the estate etc. I did end up planning the funeral (which was a little weird) but my brother honestly didn't seem capable of making the necessary decisions, and was actually quite grateful that I offered to do it.

But, dealing with the estate has been a whole different matter. My mother didn't have a will, and my brother wanted to administer the estate, so I said that was fine, and agreed that I would do whatever he needed or wanted me to do to help him.

Now, I don't know how these sorts of things "normally" go, but honestly, it's just been really, really strange from day one. He's been bizarrely possessive of her belongings - all with the guise that he's following some sort of legal framework. But it's all been quite nonsensical.

Here are a few examples: Mom was into crafts, especially basket making. So I thought it would be nice if we brought some of her baskets to the funeral to display, and then let people take one as a memento if they wanted. He refused - stating that we didn't own the baskets, the estate did, and that we didn't have the legal authority to give them away or even display them at the funeral. In the end they all got taken to a thrift store.

Similarly, my mother had one fairly close friend - the two of them used to enjoy going to crafts fairs together. Anyhow, this friend asked if she could have a few things that my mother had bought during one of those outings - just a few trinkets - a letter opener and something else that I can't remember. My brother started insisting that she pay us for them. I couldn't take it on that one, and told the friend that she could have the items, and then told my brother that I would pay for them. Finally that one ended when I contacted the paralegal helping with the estate to enlist her help in gathering the items, and I got her to call my brother and convince him that it was OK to give Mom's friend the items.

Then there are the letters. My mother had apparently written a number of letters addressed to me which she never mailed. I have no idea what's in these letters, or when they were written, or really anything else about them, because my brother gathered them up and has refused to let me see them or have them - once again stating that they belong to the estate, not to me. This one really burned me, but I decided to just let it go. Maybe some day I'll get to read the letters, maybe I won't. And depending on what they say, that could be a good or bad thing.

So anyhow, that's how things went with the estate. Every step has been like pulling teeth. And finally about 2 years ago, I just gave up and stopped making offers of help, or nudging him, or even asking how it was going. At that point, the only thing that was still hanging fire was a time share condo that she owned (where the two of them used to vacation). He said he didn't want the thing, and I surely don't, but you can't really sell those things, so he's just been sitting on it paying out the $1000 maintenance fee each year. I had tried and tried and tried to help him by doing research on how to get rid or it, and I tried to get him to call them and see if we could simply deed it back to the company - but nothing. I thought about going behind his back and calling the company, but decided against it. That's where it all got left 2 years ago. Then, about 6 months ago out of the blue, I got an email from my brother saying that he'd finally called the timeshare company (I'm wondering if maybe they contacted him) and discovered that we could actually deed it back to them for a $200 fee - imagine that. Anyhow, I replied that we should do that, and that's the last I ever heard of it.

So that brings us to today (well mostly - I left out a lot of gory details). I received a legal notice from the lawyer handling the estate saying that he's withdrawing effective mid-November. Basically he's going to be retiring soon and is clearing out cases that haven't, ahem, had any activity in over a year.

I called my brother to talk about it, but he didn't pick up the phone, so I left a message expressing my concern. I was out today when he called back and left a very curt and angry message saying that it wasn't anything to worry about, that he was working on locating another lawyer, and that he didn't think there was anything to discuss.

I honestly don't think there is anything left to "settle" where the estate is concerned. Most of her money (such as it was) was in a retirement account, and since she had named us both as beneficiaries, that money was simply divided between the two of us without going through probate. The rest is pretty inconsequential in terms of the amount. Her house (trailer, actually) was sold, and most of her belongings liquidated within the first 6 months or so after she died, so I just don't understand why the estate is still not settled. I'm sure there's some sort of document to be filed or something official that has to be done in order to declare the thing finished, but my brother seems either unwilling or unable to take that step.

So here's my conundrum. I gave up years ago, and had pretty much assumed that the estate would just never be settled. But now this has re-opened the whole ugly topic, so I'm trying to decide if I should do anything (meaning call my brother back and ask him what the hold up is, and/or suggest that we just settle it now rather than getting a new lawyer) or if I should just stay out of it and let him do what he's gonna do.

It's pretty clear to me that my brother is much more of an emotional mess than I ever realized, and that on some level he's just not capable of bringing this to closure - either that, or he's just really angry with me and is being passive aggressive. I don't really want to push him or upset him, but it has been over three years, and I really don't like the idea of having an unsettled legal matter hanging over my head.

So what would you do? Both CatMan and my father think that I should push it, at least to a point. CatMan thinks I should go so far as to petition the court to take over the estate, but both Dad and I are pretty dead set against that one. Honestly, I just don't know what to do. Part of me is concerned that pushing it might actually cause my brother to do something crazy - not exactly sure what sort of crazy, but it just seems like he's not exactly functioning normally, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for pushing him over some sort of emotional edge.

I'm really sorry to write such a long, ranting and negative post, but I'm just feeling like I need some outside thoughts on this one. I'd be totally grateful for any ideas y'all might have. Sigh.


  1. I can't give you any advice, as I don't know anything about American law and have never had to deal with a situation like this. But I do wish you all the best, dealing with this difficult situation. I think it will be a big relief when it is finished.


    1. Thanks so much, Rolien. It would be really nice if it could be finished some day.

  2. Woah...that is a tough one. It sounds to me like you have a very clear, very insightful handle on the whole situation. And you are very empathetic to your brother and probably far more aware than him of where he is really at with such a complex grieving process.

    All of which makes me think you would be able to handle 'pushing it' to a conclusion with sensitivity and good judgment.

    It is so hard to give outside opinions without knowing the whole situation. I guess I just wonder a few things: do you think it is burdening your brother to have 'estate' issues cropping up from time to time? Or does it give him solace to have that connection? Is the connection healthy (in a grieving sense) or damaging to him?

    And for everyone concerned: is there any possibility of any ugly legal things hidden away there, that your brother isn't discussing? That would worry me a bit. By finalising the estate, you can be sure there are no hidden issues (financial, physical or emotional, like the letters.) On this ground alone, I think I'd want to finalise things. And you've really been incredibly balanced: giving lots of time and space and allowing grieving, but also lots of practical help where it was accepted, like the condo.

    Will your brother openly discuss it?

    I am very sorry for your loss. And I worry at how hard it could be to read those letters (and just as hard to have them held away from you.)

    1. Thanks for such a supportive comment. I think my brother is probably caught between feeling like the estate is a burden and feeling like he doesn't want to close it because it's his last connection with my mother. When I have been able to get him to talk about it (which isn't often) he seems to waver between wanting it to be dealt with and not wanting to let go of anything. We'll agree that xyz thing should happen, and he actually seems relieved by the decision, but then he just "can't find the time" and it never gets done.

      I sorta doubt there's anything ugly lurking in a legal sense, but I can't be sure. When CatMan's dad died, there was a final hearing to close the estate and suddenly all sorts of mysterious doctors showed up claiming that he owed them money. CatMan and his sisters figured it was all probably bogus, because they had no records of him ever seeing these doctors, and they didn't seem appropriate given his medical situation - but they didn't want to deal with fighting it so they just paid the bills. So I do have concerns about something like that happening.

      I'm thinking I might give it another day or two before trying to contact my brother - just to let him calm down. I suspect he's probably reacting defensively because this has brought to light the fact that he's really dropped the ball.

      Thanks again for your support.

  3. Often settling estates is a mess. Each has their own version of problems, but problems all the same.

    It is very clear to me what you need to do. Get your own lawyer for a consultation as to what the law is and the ramifications of different actions. We can all give you lots of advice on an emotional level. I would push it and have it settled once and for all and hope that your brother gets some help. However, I don't know the law.

    If I remember it right, your mother lived in a different state, so you need to get a lawyer from there. States very a lot in this matter. Hopefully, you could do a phone consultation with them. I also think you should use a totally independent lawyer from the one that is already involved. It will cost a little money to get legal advice, but if it helps resolve things, I think it's worth it.

    I think if you were truly able to just ignore this situation and let the consequences (if any) fall where they may, I don't think you would be asking us for advice. So my advice is for you to get more information and make an informed decision then.

    Good luck. I hope soon enough your biggest decision will be where to go on a bike ride with Catman.

    1. I like L&L's advice the best. This situation is obviously preying on your mind. One of the things we tell our kids is "your response is your responsibility". I don't think you need to take on worrying about how your brother will emotionally handle this--it's his responsibility to handle it as best he can. He is an adult and can seek professional help if he needs it in terms of dealing with your mom's death. Your own peace of mind is another thing--I suspect you won't be able to ever feel settled till all the ends are tied up. And you can't do that without solid legal advice.

    2. June, that's a great suggestion that I never would have thought of. And you're right - if I felt OK just letting it slide I probably wouldn't have been up all night writing a long rant on the interwebs!

      Kris - I LOVE the idea that "your response is your responsibility." I wish it was that easy to just let go of worrying about his reaction. I've honestly always had very complicated feelings about him - caught between jealousy, anger and feeling very, very sorry for him. I often feel like I escaped from a burning building and left my brother behind. Of course, he couldn't have been dragged kicking and screaming out of there, so there's not really much I could have done. But you're right, he is an adult, and at some point he's going to have to confront the mountain of emotional stuff left behind by the craziness of our family. Sigh.

    3. Ha. Well, I have my own family craziness to deal with and perhaps I need to repeat that to myself. I think you are a kind-hearted person who wants to do the "right thing" by your brother--I can sooooooo relate to that and I find I end up taking on too much of my family member's "stuff". In the long run, it isn't healthy for me or anyone else--I feel overwhelmed and the other person doesn't take responsibility like they should. All to say--I feel your pain. :)

      In one of your below comments, you mentioned that your brother responds best to neutral authority figures--I have found this to be true with my family members, as well, and it takes the pressure off me if someone else plays the "heavy".

    4. You're totally right - it doesn't really help either one of us for me to take on the weight of his emotional stuff. I have to keep reminding myself that as much as I dislike dealing with the family "crazy" - in a certain sense I am grateful. My family was just crazy enough to force me into having to face my own deep dark emotions in a way that I probably wouldn't have otherwise... yet not crazy enough to screw me up beyond all remedy. And even though I felt a huge sense of "it's not fair" concerning my brother and our relative positions in the family, in truth, I got a much better deal than he did. Sigh.

  4. I agree with Live and Learn- this is obviously troubling you enough to ask the Internet for help, so it needs dealing with :)
    I can totally understand you not wanting to stress your brother out, but that can't be at the expense of you worrying about it all the time! I would try gently trying to find out what is not settled yet.
    Could you ask the lawyer who is retiring what there is left to do, and at least find out if there is a legal horror lurking for you to deal with?!

    I don't think you should be too aggressive and jump in there and take over from your brother, but his behaviour doesn't sound particularly healthy, so I don't think letting settling the estate drag on forever will help anyone in the long term!

    1. Thanks Nicola, I'm thinking I'll probably send him an email and try to strike a balance between gentle nudging and support - we'll see how it goes.

      In terms of what's left to do, I think part of the problem is that my brother is both extremely compulsive (like OCD level of compulsive) and is reacting more based on emotion than on fact. But throughout this process, when I have succeeded in getting him to move on something, it's been after an authority figure has told him it's OK - so maybe if I could get the lawyer to tell him he can close the thing, he would listen to that. I guess in the back of my mind I was sorta hoping that this situation would precipitate the lawyer telling him that without my intervention, but it's not looking like that's the case. Sigh.

    2. It sounds like, hopefully, with a little more gentle nudging (perhaps nudging of the lawyer/other authority figure too!) you will be able to persuade your brother to get it all wrapped up. Hopefully it will be a relief to him as well as you!

    3. We'll see. I tried calling again but he didn't pick up the phone, so I sent him a very carefully worded email. I guess we'll see...

  5. I'm so sorry you've had to go through all of this but I would let it go and inform your brother any further attorney fees are on him. You've been through enough.

    1. Thanks Tina - I'm not sure it's that simple, but I do like that idea. The legal fees are all being paid out of the estate funds, but I don't know what happens once those are exhausted. Probably something I should investigate.

  6. The lawyer wrote to you to inform you of whats going on, which means they think you're still involved. You're not. So you need to write to them to let them know the situation, at least to a point. That way, whatever ends up happening, there is written proof of your current position. The lawyer may also be able to offer some short advice. Good luck.

    1. Thanks for your suggestion - I'm not sure that "washing my hands of it" in a legal sense is as simple as simply stating that I don't want to be involved any more. I suspect there is some legal process, but it would be worth investigating. I've never actually spoken with this lawyer, but I did have an email conversation with the paralegal - perhaps I should see if I can contact her and go from there.

  7. My reaction is to apologize to your brother and say that you didn't mean to butt in, but that it looked like maybe he could use a little help. If he doesn't need help, that's great, but if he does think of something, let you know. It sounds like he feels accused of things and is being defensive.

    My next thought is that I'm wondering why your dad is pushing you to push him instead of pushing him himself if he thinks that's what's appropriate. I guess your dad is more estranged from your brother than you are?

    I think that good as it would feel to you to have everything done with, it doesn't really sound that important, at least not compared with whatever is going on with your brother.

    There's definitely some craziness going on, and it's too bad he doesn't seem to have anyone else to help him with it. Maybe you can ask the old lawyer for a recommendation of a new lawyer who might be good with clients like your brother?

    Meanwhile, I'm sorry about the craziness.

    1. The idea of approaching it apologetically is a good one - might activate some of his "big brother" instincts. My dad is sort of a mess too, though in a whole different way, and getting him any further involved would probably only complicate matters. I agree that the complications of the estate pale in comparison to the emotional issues my brother has - though the chances of him being willing to deal with any of that are slim. Who knows though... maybe some of this will push him into getting some help? A girl can dream... :-)

  8. Dear EcoCatLady, my heart goes out to you. I do not have direct experience with dealing with an estate, so my suggestion may be farfetched, but here goes: Why don't you have the current lawyer send you a list of steps that still need to be taken to close out the estate (or at least some approximation thereof), and then you can try to pressure your brother to deal with one item at a time. Perhaps there are some items that you can handle yourself? - just let your brother know he is taking so long, you think he may need some help. After all, he didn't have a problem with you planning the funeral. Obviously "taking a backseat to your brother" has outlived it's usefulness.
    Best wishes from somebody who can relate.

    1. That's a good idea though I'm not sure what the lawyer can legally tell me. WAAAY back when this whole thing started, I had to sign some documents releasing control of the estate to my brother - that was part of him being named administrator. It might be worth trying, but I'm not sure where it will go. My sense is that he hasn't been in touch with the lawyer for a good long while - the letter referenced my brother as estate administrator and listed his "last known address" which sorta implies that there hasn't been much regular contact.

  9. Several of the other commenters made some of the same point that occurred to me.

    Because states differ so much in estate laws, it would be helpful to talk to either the lawyer that is relinquishing his professional services or talk to an estate attorney for a consultation. Because the lawyer that is dropping the case is familiar with your mother's estate, that's where I would start by calling and talking to someone. The logical question is "why isn't this matter settled?" While you have him on the phone, I would also question him as to if the hold up is due to anything on behalf of your brother or if there is anything you need to do to expedite this estate being settled.

    We have had several complicated probates with some of our relatives as well. (but we didn't have the dynamic of your brother) and one of the estates took several years to close. BUT I firmly believe that the lawyer was dragging it out to bill out additional hours. Finally when I had enough and called him threatening that I was getting a different firm involved, the estate was settled in about 6 weeks. I don't believe that is the case here as the lawyer is quitting BUT he might appreciate you not wanting to get another lawyer involved. They don't work for free. Again...he surely has an idea how long this case should be taking and why isn't it already settled after this length of time.

    One of the bigger problems with your situation, though is the relationship (or lack thereof) with your sibling and his ability to handle all of this in an appropriate manner.

    I think this sound very, VERY stressful. If you ever need to vent just email me as I have great listening ears. artofconflicted@aol.com

    I hope this gets resolved, if for no other reason as to have it quit causing you stress.

    1. I agree that would probably be helpful. As I just wrote in response to the comment above, I'm not sure how much the current lawyer can legally tell me, but it probably is worth pursuing. While my brother isn't very responsive, he has been sending me a financial summary each month - which basically has showed nothing other than the paying of the time share maintenance fees. I suppose it's possible that he isn't being truthful, but I think it's more likely that he just doesn't want to deal with it and is ignoring things. That's basically what he does.

      Anyhow, thanks so much for your support, it's interesting that it took 6 weeks to settle the estate you mentioned even after you got movement. That suggests that even in the best of situations, it's unlikely that it will get done before the end of the year. Sigh.

  10. People get just plain weird when it comes to estates and dealing with a deceased relative’s belongings and money. I don’t know why, but it seems to bring out the worst in people.

    The attorney may well have other reasons for the withdrawing from the case. Is he a one-man firm? If not, it may mean that your brother has been enough of a pain that he’s taking the opportunity to get out while he can, and not handing the case off to someone else. Are you sure your brother has even been paying the attorney’s fees regularly?

    If you weren’t named executrix in a will, if you didn’t retain the attorney, and you haven’t been officially dealing with things, you may not have a legal matter hanging over your head. It may be worth it for you to talk to a different attorney (preferably one who specializes in estates) just to make sure you have no legal obligation to take part/continue taking part in the drama your brother seems to be creating surrounding your mother’s estate. You should be able to contact your state bar association for attorneys who specialize in estate work.

    It sounds like your brother needs a lot more help than just dealing with your mother’s estate, but it also sounds like you are not the person who can give it. He may not even want it.

    I know you have a close relationship with your dad, but he may not be the best/most objective person to give you advice about this. He must have some baggage regarding the breakup and lack of relationship with your brother; that’s only normal. It would also be normal for that to influence whatever advice he gives you. He’s human!

    Are you still in touch with the close friend of your mom’s? Or can you get in touch with her? Do you think she might have at least some idea of whether or not the letters actually exist (were ever written in the first place, have since been burned or shredded, or are sitting in a box in storage), and if so, what they might say? You say they could either be a good thing or a bad thing, maybe her close friend would know.

    Just my two cents worth, but it sounds like you need to decide if there’s anything in your mother’s possessions that you truly can’t live without, and determine whether or not you do really have any legal obligation to sort things out. If both of those answers no, maybe it’s time to walk away. If either of those are yes, at least you know what you need to.

    I’m sorry you’re going through all of this. I know it sucks. I hope things resolve themselves quickly.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts. It's definitely crossed my mind that the lawyer has other reasons for withdrawing. The stationery indicates that he has partners in his legal practice, so I do find it curious that he wouldn't simply hand it off to one of them. If my brother doesn't respond by the end of the week I'll probably go the route of trying to see if I can get any information out of him.

      You're right about my dad not being objective. I think there's plenty of leftover baggage there, and I don't necessarily want to toss that into the mix.

      In terms of my mother's friend, I think "close" is a relative term. They always described each other as "best friends" but at the funeral I found out that they hadn't actually talked in over a year. So I don't think she has any helpful information. My brother basically told me he has the letters and is "keeping them safe" until the estate is settled. Who knows - maybe he's read them and they contain something explosive or crazy about my mother (not beyond the realm of possibility) and he doesn't want to settle the estate because he doesn't want me to find out.

      I think the letters are probably the biggest deal to me. I mean, right after she died I was like: GIVE ME THE F-ING LETTERS!!!! But I have mellowed over the past 3 years. I mean, even if there was some profound confession or revelation, it wouldn't change the reality of our relationship. I think I'd be fine if I never got them, but it's the uncertainty that gnaws at me. There's a sense that there's another shoe to fall, so it's hard for me to feel "finished" with the whole thing.

      Anyhow, thanks so much for your support. I really appreciate it.

  11. Eco Cat Lady,
    I think you should be clear with yourself about exactly what your goals are such as getting your share of the estate (doesn't sound like that is important), get the letters she wrote to you, supporting your brother in moving on, etc. If it was me, I'd stop contacting the brother and walk away. He has more emotional problems than you can "fix" and you don't need anything from the estate.

    As far as the letters, if your mom wanted you to read them, she would have mailed them to you. They might be just her venting or blowing off steam and she might have been horrified to think you'd ever read them. I admittedly am Pollyanna-ish but other people's opinion of me just doesn't interest me. 😉 You KNOW you had a difficult relationship with her so why peel the scab off that wound?

    The one thing I might do though just for peace of mind is to either contact the retiring lawyer or a new lawyer for a one time consultation about whether you have any legal liability over your brothers non settlement of her estate. I doubt you do but it couldn't heard to verify your role and liabilities.

    As a final note, by hoarder brother in law took 15 YEARS to settle his bachelor uncle's estate which DID have some significant resources. Today his house is still fill with the uncle's stuff that he couldn't bear to part with. You can't control other people's behaviors or their weird attachments so take care of yourself! Good luck. 😘

    1. Thanks so much for your support. I think you're right - I need to figure out what my goal is here and focus on that.

      My problem is that this stuff just makes me soooo angry. On some level I know that the anger has much more to do with things that happened decades ago than it does with my mother's estate, but it's hard for me to separate it out. I end up spinning my wheels in a mire of memories - a lifetime of being told that I was crazy, lazy, and irresponsible, while my brother was considered the "perfect child" who could do no wrong. But none of that is particularly helpful in this situation.

      In the good news department, I did do some research on probate law in Washington state (where she died) and discovered that the statute of limitations for filing a claim against the estate is 24 months from the date the person died, so I think I can relax on that front.

      And my brother did finally respond to me (via email) and claims that he is actually moving forward. Of course, I've heard that before, but he did actually deed the condo back to the timeshare company, and is reportedly getting a new lawyer to finish up the estate. He is, however, obsessing about getting the family photos "appraised" - good gawd, but whatever.

      And you may be right about the letters - I sorta wish I didn't even know they existed. Knowing my mother it's probably just more of the same stuff it always was, hostility wrapped up in a cloak of victim-hood, but if they do end up in my hands, I'm not sure I'm capable of leaving them un-read. I guess I'll just have to see how I feel about it if and when the time comes.

      The story about your brother in law makes my brother look downright functional! I guess it's all a matter of perspective :-)

      Thanks again for your support, I really appreciate it.

  12. Cat, I am so sorry you are still having to deal with the estate issues. I know the sooner this is closed for good the sooner you will be able to move on or deal with your feelings for your mother (and brother).

    When my grandfather died we learned that he named me and my brother co-executor of the estate. My brother caused so much trouble that I signed off and walked away. Literally, it was so bad that my boys and I moved to Arizona and left the rest of my siblings fight it out. In the end, the lawyer called me and asked for my help to close the estate. Which brings me to my only piece of advice. It's possible that even if you signed off on the estate giving your brother full power the lawyer might still tell you what needs to be completed saving you another call to your brother. This would depend on the lawyer as the lawyer for my step father's estate told me nothing. Two years after his death I'd called her to see if the estate was still open and letting her know I was moving and would give her my address if it was. She wouldn't tell me anything going so far as to say that I needed to contact the executors and tell them my new address but wouldn't even tell me if it had been closed or not.

    If you choose to contact a lawyer for yourself, I'd ask that the letters addressed to you be handed over. What is your brother thinking!

    1. Thanks, Lois. You know, from everything you've told me, I think your family makes mine look downright normal!

      It is sorta ironic isn't it? I mean, here I am all worried about my brother's feelings, meanwhile here he is, withholding those letters with absolutely zero concern for how that might make me feel. Hmmm... CatMan's always said that's the family pattern here, but somehow it's hard for me to see. Sorta undeniable in this case though. Probably something I should spend some time on... Why do I feel responsible for the feelings of people who don't care one whit about mine? Maybe it's a convenient way to get away from my own feelings...

      Well anyhow, your experience with the various lawyers is interesting. At the moment I'm feeling less concern because I was able to get my brother to respond and tell me that he did deed the condo back to the timeshare company, so I don't have to worry about liabilities there. Plus I researched the probate law and found that we are past the statute of limitations on people making claims on the estate.

      So now it's really less of a legal concern, and just the same old family horse pucky that it's always been. Sigh.

    2. I'm glad you were able to talk to your brother to at least clear up the condo issue and then were able to learn that the statue of limitations has passed.

      I believe we see the worst of family when a death happens.

      When my grandmother died my grandfather went through her things and found that she saved every letter I'd ever written to her. At first I thought reading them would be a waste of time but I read them anyway. It was cathartic to find that I'd grown so much over the years. Believing I was a mess and would carry that mess to my grave it was a relief to look back and see I was no longer that person. I know your mother's letters are different but regardless of what she had to say I think you will have your opportunity to put much of your pain aside if you get to read them. I suspect you will find that she had more problems, was more screwed up than you thought?, and you will be able to find peace knowing more about her as a result. I do hope you get that chance.

    3. I do hope the letters will provide some closure. Actually, the thing I'm most interested to look at are the other personal things - apparently there are 6 boxes of journals, and other personal items... stuff that might help me shed some light on the person she was outside of my relationship with her.

      I have a very strong hunch that she was harboring some pretty big secrets. Who knows... perhaps she was and my brother already knows and doesn't want me to find out. There's probably nothing quite as salacious as my imagination has conjured up, but still, I think it would help me to see her as just a flawed person rather than as the all powerful mother figure.

    4. When you first talked about unsent letters, I thought that these might be letters that she was right not to send, which she wrote when angry and then re-thought, so they might just make you feel worse. But if there are secrets, then that changes things.

      I've been reading books with characters in or from Haiti, and in one of the books, someone found out her dad was one of the bad guys who killed and tortured people. And that scar on his face is from someone he was torturing, not his torturers. And his nightmares .... Well, that did explain why he didn't want his picture taken and didn't want to return to Haiti or hang with other Haitian immigrants--one of them might recognize him and want revenge.

      So is that worse than your imagination conjured up?

      And now I'm also remembering that there are a lot of situations in fiction where one character ask for information from another character and promises that they want to hear the truth and that they won't get mad. And then they immediate get mad and say that the person should have lied. Maybe convincing your brother that you're not like that (assuming your not) would help. Oh, except you don't even really know if there are any secrets. Well, maybe you could say that he shouldn't have to carry secret burdens alone?

      I'm glad you're feeling better and that at least the statute of limitations has passed.

    5. Ha! Well, my suspicions are much closer to The Bridges of Madison County (a slightly more lurid version) than torture or criminal activity, but I suppose anything's possible!

    6. Oh, yikes, sorry about all those typos!

      Ah, steamy affairs (hey, he CLEANED THE SHOWER), well that could be pretty interesting.

  13. Ugh! I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this - STILL! I can't add anything useful to the excellent advice you've already got here, but I will offer a little story: When my grandma was dying I was in the hospital at her bedside. She hauled herself up on one elbow and fixed her eyes on me: "Ducky," she said... and that was the only word I could make out. She didn't have her teeth in (I never even knew she wore false teeth before that day) and I couldn't understand a word she said. I missed her deathbed speech! I console myself that it was almost certainly the same stuff that she'd been saying to me for years, which was mostly telling me how to run my life, which I mostly ignored.

    Apart from that, I'm sending virtual hugs. Take care.

    1. OK... that story totally made me laugh. Almost sounds like something out of a Woody Allen movie! I don't mean to make light of your loss, but the story does sort of put things into perspective. In the end our relationship was what it was and no "last words" will change that.

      Thanks for the hugs.

  14. In reading some of your responses to some of the comments, it looks like you got some good/helpful advice from some people, and like you're in at least a little better place emotionally. That's huge! In my opinion, anyway.

    I think one of the great things about blogging is that sometimes you can post something that's emotional, or a rant, or asking for advice, and you can get really great feedback from people who care, but are far enough removed from the situation to bring a new perspective, or at least not have a knee-jerk emotional reaction. It's a great perk to being a blogger.

    Anyway, I hope things keep moving in a more positive direction. Hugs.

    1. Awwww, what a sweet comment. Thanks so much. I am feeling much better about it all. It really does help to be able to talk it out with people who aren't mired in the whole mess. Hugs to you too. :-)

  15. Dear Cat - wow you're nice. I mean, I always knew you were, but OMG. In your shoes I would not be in the least little bit still on speaking terms with my brother. Holding back letters written to you? How can he think that's acceptable? You have done EV-ER-Y-THING anyone could possibly ask of you (and then some) to help him and he's done nothing but spit in you eye in return.
    He's (in my oh-so-humble opinion) a spoiled brat who needs to learn how to be decent to the sister he doesn't deserve.
    My (admittedly somewhat warped) advice would be to protect yourself re the legalities, get a lawyer to write him a letter demanding that he hand over your mother's letters, then forget he exists.
    Gah, this has annoyed me. Grrr!
    Good luck, whatever sane course you decide to pursue. xx

    1. Thanks, Cathy. It's really helpful to get some validation on this stuff. I think I carry the family narrative with me - Seriously, I can still hear my mother calling me a spoiled brat and a "little bitch" and berating me for wanting to go out with my friends, and why can't I take my "poor brother" along... bla, bla, bla.

      Since when is it the younger sister's responsibility to provide friends for her older brother? I mean, the truth of the matter is that he didn't have friends because he didn't want them. He was far too invested in his relationship with my mother for that. Plus, he's sort of an arrogant jerk.

      I do feel sorry for him though because as crazy and dysfunctional as his relationship with my mother was, he really does seem lost without her. Karma's a bitch, ain't it?

      Anyhow, thanks for your support, and for giving me "permission" to be angry. :-)

  16. Cat, what I'm thinking about after reading your post is how strong and kind and fair-minded and thoughtful and clear-headed you are. None of us is spared from family drama and dysfunction, but you have risen above a lot of tough stuff and I admire you all the more after hearing a bit of your story. I love the advice that your readers have shared, especially since I don't have a clue. I will send up positive thoughts and prayers for a peaceful resolution, which you so deserve after all these years. xo

    1. Awwww, what a sweet comment. I'll take it with a grain of salt though, because I'm quite sure that my brother (and mother, if she were still living) would have a different view of things. I know I am far from perfect, and that I played my own role in the family dynamic, but I do try to take responsibility for my own "stuff."

      I really do appreciate your kind words though, as well as your prayers and thoughts. I too hope for a peaceful resolution some day.

  17. I am sorry to have not read this post sooner and that you are in a bad place. IMO, you should just walk away. The light at the end of the tunnel, is that you don't have to worry about your mother, your brother, their relationship and any dysfunction about it any longer.

    If you disengage, you can have peace. Is there really anything of tangible worth in her estate that is more valuable that your peace of mind?

    You are strong and independent, live for yourself. By hanging on, you are feeding your brother's sick emotional needs and he's been able to blackmail you into having emotions that you would have not had to experience if he was a good person. Don't let the bad people in your life bring you down. Walk away from them and live for the good people who have a positive impact.

    Darling, you are a good woman who is being made to feel bad and powerless. Don't give your brother that power. Take it from him by walking away.

    And please feel better about it! I hate that you are in such a bad spot.

    1. Thanks so much for your support. I've pretty much determined that I no longer have any legal liability, so I think disengaging is probably the best option.

      You know, on some level all of this is very validating at the same time that it's hurtful. Not sure exactly how to put this, but I think a part of me has always secretly hoped that maybe it really was just me. I know this sounds crazy, but if all of the family dysfunction was somehow my fault, then it would mean that they really did love me, and I was just an ungrateful child like my mother always said. So having tangible evidence that the dysfunction was all real... while it does validate my feelings and makes me feel like I'm not crazy, it also makes it impossible to hold onto the illusion that I somehow just made it all up.

      Not sure if that made any sense at all, but whatever happened when I was a kid happened, and there's nothing to be done about it now. So continuing to give my brother the power to make me angry is not helpful to anyone. Sigh.

  18. I'm very late to comment here, but I feel for you and your brother. It's such a tough thing to lose a loved one and the last thing any of us want to deal with is at a time like that is legal matters.

    I agree with contacting your brother again and just asking him what might be outstanding, given the long time. Rather than pushing for closure, you're seeking information, which seems reasonable: asking for updates on old items is always reasonable.

    Now, how he reacts to that is up to him and he very well might be defensive. But so long as you steer the conversation back to "what are our action items" rather than "whose fault is this" then I think you've got a good chance of getting a quicker resolution than you would if you just let sleeping dogs lie.

    All the best.

    1. Thanks so much. I was finally able to actually speak with my brother, and I'm feeling much better about things. I tried to help him make a plan for dealing with the stuff that's still outstanding and in principle he agreed to everything. Whether this will translate into action or not remains to be seen, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see...

  19. I am sorry this is happening in your life. I would seek legal advise. Sometimes the 1st meeting is free.
    It sounds like the attorney handling probate would have the answears. We are only responsible for our own actions and responces. I would see what legal ramifications are. It is probably pretty cut and dried. Some of us use the left side of our brain more and sometimes that is comforting. You might even be able close your part of probate or the estate without it envolving your brother. I am praying for favor,grace and peace for you. I think
    you will have solution soon.
    Hope things get better soon.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and supportive comment. I did finally get to speak with my brother and I think he really does want it to be done, he just feels overwhelmed - which seems to translate into paralysis. I tried to take as much pressure off of him as I could, but we'll see...


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