My husband and I were together 20 years. He had six adult children from his first marriage; his wife died of cancer. I have always had difficulty with his children; nothing I did was ever right. This distressed my husband greatly; his children’s attitudes were the only thing we fought about. My husband got Parkinson’s and, in the end, declined rapidly. His children barely visited; I took care of him myself.
Early in our marriage my husband gave his children their inheritance, so the only one named in his will was me as executor and sole beneficiary. I had him cremated as he wished. Now I have his ashes — and therein lies the problem. He wanted to be buried with me, but now his kids are demanding both the ashes and a copy of the will — which is none of their business. Ethically speaking, what should I do?
It’s easy to understand why you would want nothing more to do with these people. The relationship is beyond repair, and the sooner you go your separate ways, the better.
But as tempting as it is to simply blow them off, the fact is they’ve lost their father and are grieving. In some people, grief isn’t a particularly attractive process, and given the lack of grace shown throughout their life, it’s not surprising their grief is graceless as well. Be that as it may, they are now demanding a piece of the action, and it’s their birthright to do so.
Still, you need to bring this chapter to a close.
So send them each a copy of the will. In fact, it is their business; whether or not they are named, they were still his kids, and from an ethical point of view have a right to know how his property was disposed of. Assuming the will is as described and you’ve executed it properly, there’s no downside to sending them a copy. Failure to do so, however, only breeds suspicion and contempt.
With regard to the ashes, decide where you want to be buried and set a firm date, as soon as possible, for interring the remains (His, not yours!). Then send a note to each of the kids, letting them know the burial date and asking if they would like a portion of the ashes for their own memorial. Advise them that, if they wish this to happen, they must let you know within 30 days of receiving your letter. It’s perfectly appropriate to divide ashes, so if one or more of the kids wants a portion, accommodate them.
The actual process of dividing ashes is not distasteful; either you can buy suitably dignified containers (no Tupperware, please) and do it yourself, or you could purchase small urns from your funeral director and have him do the division. Obviously the latter option is more expensive, but you might find it emotionally less arduous.
When 30 days have passed, everyone has received a copy of the will and any requests for ashes have been satisfied, go into your address book, select the names of each of these people and press “delete.” Once this business is done, there’s no need to send Christmas cards.
By: Ken Gallinger Ethically speaking columnist, Published on Sat May 16 2015