Writer and broadcaster

“My ex-husband’s father has changed his will in favour of a woman who we fear is exploiting him.” Published in The Guardian

Can you help me and my sons, aged 22 and 21, and daughter, 18, to find perspective on an issue that we find deeply distressing and frustrating? It concerns their paternal grandfather, who is 84, and the contents of his will. 

I was divorced from my children’s father in July 2004. My ex-husband has a serious alcohol problem and left me with all the financial responsibility and has not provided a penny towards their upbringing since 2001.

The children’s grandfather was widowed two and a half years ago. Immediately a woman, who is 58, moved in with him. Shortly afterwards, he bought a four-bedroomed house, in which they now live together. It appears they have a contract which enables him to be looked after by her until he dies and in exchange he will leave her the house and £150,000. 

My daughter thinks this woman is exploiting her grandfather. My elder son feels very angry that he and his siblings will not inherit the house that their grandfather lives in with his companion, as when she dies it will pass to her family. While it is possible for us all to understand the choices that he has made, it feels extremely hurtful and infuriating as the money symbolises many things: love, importance, caring and loyalty. Given his will, it feels as if he has cast aside his grandchildren. To make matters worse, my ex-husband inherited a lot of money following the death of his mother, which he squandered. 

It seems as if nobody is thinking of the children except for me, and this feels extremely sad. I have made my feelings known to the children’s grandfather by email but he doesn’t respond. He has given each of them a small legacy but deep down I want to cease contact with him as it is all the power that I have, but I also don’t want to make things more difficult for the children or interfere in their relationship with him.

J, via email

There are two things going on: what’s happening with your father in law, and your history with your husband.

What underpins them both is your understandable anger. However, you seem to be seeking redress through your father in law’s estate, as if this will mend so much of the hurt and disappointment. And I not only don’t think it will, but also I think more hurt and anger can follow if you don’t refocus.

I wonder what sort of relationship you and your children have with him. Has he really cast aside his grandchildren? Do they visit him and spend what time you have left with him? It’s not that I don’t totally understand how you must feel. I do. But there is absolutely nothing you can do about this unless your father in law has been unduly influenced. Who he leaves his money to is up to him.

But you can influence your children to spend time with him and help them understand that money doesn’t equal love and that his leaving money to someone else is not a reflection on them. I would absolutely counsel against cutting ties with him, and certainly never before you’ve had a conversation with him face to face, not via email.

For a legal view, I spoke to lawyer and will dispute specialist Andrew Wood, partner at Clarkson Wright and Jakes Ltd. “There are two issues here. The will and their agreement. If she weren’t living with him, and he hadn’t entered into an agreement with her, he could simply write a new will. But as she has moved in with him and they appear to have an agreement of some sort, she could have the right to prevent him or his estate from reneging on the agreement (if she can prove she relied on the agreement to her disadvantage, eg by giving up her own home or by providing care) and/or, after his death, a claim under Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 based on her having become financially dependent on him. If he wants to go back on this agreement he’d have to show he was bullied into it, or try to get her to take less now as a clean break.”

In short: if you believe he has been bullied into this, convince him to see a lawyer. For yourself, please see a counsellor (bacp.co.uk; ukcp.org.uk) to help you work through the hurt and anger. You’ve achieved so much; don’t let the action of others define you now.


First published in The Guardian Family section.