Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My sister-in-law is threatening to take legal action against us


Dear Virginia,



After the recent death of her husband, my once-shy sister-in-law surprised us all by taking his employers to court over his pension – and winning. Now she's decided my brother, who was her husband's executor, did something wrong over the will and is threatening legal action. We've tried to be conciliatory, but she's determined to go ahead. I'm so angry and upset I feel like writing her a letter. What do you think?



Yours sincerely, Zara

I don't know who wired in the emotion of fury to erupt when it comes to a death, but whoever did should be shot. Grief is bad enough. But white rage? And yet when it comes to loss, it can come over all of us. Increasingly, I feel that all rage is triggered by loss whether it's loss of a person, loss of face, loss of attention or loss of self-esteem. If you don't agree, it's worth tracking the origins of the last time you felt furious. I bet you'll find loss lurking in there, somewhere.

I'd say that part of the reason your sister-in-law took her late husband's employers to court – and was fuelled by such energy that she actually won the case – was because the anger she felt kept her in touch with her husband. While she was fighting the old employers, in other words, she actually felt close to him. She was working on something in relation to her husband, and therefore she felt that he hadn't disappeared completely.

Of course once she won the case, she then again had to face up to the fact that her husband was dead. And therefore, to comfort herself, she looked around for some other way she could keep his flame alive in her heart... and what did she come up with? Brilliant solution! Take someone else to court!

Zara, your sister-in-law doesn't want to resolve this issue, I'm afraid, so there's no point in trying to be conciliatory. She wants a row, an ongoing tussle. As far as she's concerned, the more bitter it gets, the more people start rejecting her for her unreasonableness, the longer it goes on, the better. Subconsciously, the tussle is a way of keeping her husband alive inside herself.

Laurence Whistler, in a wonderful biography, The Initials in the Heart, wrote, when his wife died, that a friend, to comfort him in his misery, had told him that at some point he would "come through" it all. But Whistler didn't find that idea remotely consoling. "What was unendurable," he wrote, "was precisely the idea of 'coming through'... If she faded altogether, I thought, that would be the real goodbye; whereas grieving was only loving in another key."

Your sister-in-law's raging is also only "loving in another key." In the end, it will burn itself out. Rather than write a letter, try to distance yourself from this wretched situation as much as you can, remaining understanding, but detached. I know it's horribly personal for you at the moment but try, if you can, to see her frantic vindictiveness for what it is. A truly terrible grief.

Readers say...

Ask her how she feels

There are two possibilities: first, your sister-in-law wasn't so much shy as crushed, and now she has come out from under your brother's domination. Perhaps she was annoyed at not being trusted with the executorship – I know I would be. Maybe you have to find a way of dealing with this new person and her stored resentments? Ask her! Second, this may be her way of dealing with bereavement, as may your anger. Furious energy and anger are common reactions, whether your husband in this instance has done anything 'wrong' or not. Try backing off and hopefully she will calm down as the legal delays drag out.

Anonymous, by email

She's still grieving

I suppose you could give it a try as you have nothing to lose, but by the sounds of it your sister-in-law is on a roll and there may be no stopping her. Also, as she won the case against her husband's employers she may, dare I say it, have a point in the case of your brother.

Remember, she has just lost her husband and she is obviously grieving and feels she should fight in her husband's name. Before you write the letter, try and put yourself in her shoes and ask yourself what would you do in the same situation. You may be better off staying out of it and letting your brother fight his own battles.

Solange Thomas,

London W6

***

Give her free rein

So the worm has finally turned. Or turned out to have a steely core that no one had ever suspected. Why don't you let her have free rein on this and see how far she can go? Unless of course you're afraid that your brother really did do something unspeakable over the will, in which case you might consider writing a cross letter to him instead of to her.

It is a lovely thing when a hitherto timid woman finds her voice. And you seem genuinely surprised and even slightly admiring that she has. So my suggestion is that you support her and stop being so grumpy. You are a woman yourself and I'm sure you can imagine how hard it would be suddenly to find yourself a widow.

Helen Braithwaite,

London NW3

Does she have a point?

Firstly, this is your brother's problem not yours. Any letter from you would only make matters worse.

Secondly, the essence of the problem is whether your brother thinks she has any grounds for her complaint. If she has then he should try to be conciliatory and put matters right. But if he is confident that everything was done correctly, all he can do is get a good solicitor to deal with it. In my experience, few litigants ever get the executor's work overturned unless there has been obvious dishonesty.

David Carter,

Shaldon, Devon

***

Let her get on with it

Given your sister-in-law's aptitude for spotting malpractice and proving it successfully in court, she may well have another good case if she has enough evidence. I understand you wish to protect your brother, but rather than write to your sister-in-law asking her to back off, I would suggest you let her get on with it and if she truly can uncover evidence of foul play then it will be in the interest of everyone to know in the long term.

Connie O'Hare,

London, SE17

***

Try to resolve it

Ask her to write down what she thinks your brother has done wrong. Then try and resolve this by talking to your brother rather than going straight for legal action.

Michael Peterken,

Chepstow, Gwent

Suggested Topics
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine