My Daughter-in-Law Has Torn Our Family Apart—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, Around nine years ago, my husband passed away and my two sons were there for me. My one son was married with children and my youngest boy was living on his own and single. I was a very active mother, went to every event, worked full-time, took care of the house, and was always there for my children and my husband.

The youngest was very close to me, we traveled and did many things together since he did not have obligations as my older one did with a family. This all changed about 5 years ago when he met someone who he cared for. She was invited on many family vacations and outings but was always very distant from me and the rest of the family.

Your newspaper has written on "controlling mother-in-law" issues but I believe the opposite happened with me, she used this on my son. An example would be that our family wanted to be a part of my son's wedding but she convinced my son that I was trying to control their wedding just because I was paying for half of it. I was not allowed to choose a song to dance to with my son, no speech or toast was to be done, remembrance of his deceased father was only a rose, and my wedding guest list was not allowed.

In fact, due to this "friction," they were not going to invite his brothers or other family members. It came down to where I only had one table for ten. Yet her family (which did not contribute [to] the other half) had family members, made a speech, and a maid of honor (he had no best man). This was the beginning of the end. I know this is the result of my son's insecurity and his new wife's demand for him to choose her over his family because I have seen and heard how she has stopped speaking [to] or seeing her family many times over.

man and son arguing
A stock image shows a mom and her son having an argument. A mother says she feels shunned by her son. Getty Images

They have now two very young children that I have seen less than 5 times. I continued to try and fix the situation but am told to stop it, it cannot be fixed. I still invite them to outings, and dinners, send birthday gifts, etc. but my son has an excuse each time as to why they will not be there. I am over 60 years old and cannot be stressed about this anymore, it is not good for my health. I have decided [to] just let it go and concentrate on my other three grandchildren. Am I wrong for feeling this way?

My question is since my youngest does not want me or his immediate family to be a part of his family, should I then change my will and beneficiaries where he would get little or none of my estate?

Broken-Hearted Mom

Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

Never Use Money in a Way That Could Influence Your Family Relationships

Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D, is a clinical psychologist and the author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety as well as Dr. Chloe's 10 Commandments of Dating. Her approach is goal-oriented and emphasizes reaching our fullest potential through a strengths-based approach.

Dear Broken-Hearted Mom,

Thank you for sharing your story. I'm so sorry you're in such pain, but I applaud your willingness to find a path forward.

Your question is specifically about whether you are wrong to adjust your will. My response is that of course, you are free to adjust your will however you'd like. My only suggestion would be to avoid discussing the change with your sons since it might be misunderstood as a form of financial pressure for your younger son to be more accommodating. Such pressure would be inappropriate and might even push him further away. In other words, you can and should bequeath your estate however you wish; but make sure to never use money in a way that could influence your family relationships.

You didn't ask for advice about the dynamics with your son, so I will largely refrain from offering it, but I do hope that the situation will improve with time. If it's helpful, I will share some general information and context about these types of situations, but if it doesn't apply to you or feels unhelpful, please feel free to disregard it: When a child is "there" for a parent who has lost a spouse due to death or divorce, there is often a special intensity to that newly dyadic relationship. It can then become challenging when that child (or the parent) pivots away to a different person as the primary focus of their life. The challenging quality can show up [on] either side, meaning it could reflect in either you or your son, so please know there is no judgment or implication I'm making, except to agree with you that it seems there is a lot of tension around this situation and that it may connect in some way to the past. Your idea to focus more on other loved ones in your life seems like a potentially good way for you to recalibrate your life and enjoy being with family that makes you feel loved and appreciated, especially since you've been told (presumably by your younger son) to "stop it" with your efforts to "fix" things. Even as you're shifting focus, I would encourage you to continue being as open and loving as possible with your younger son and his new family so that your shift will not be seen as "leaving in a huff" but instead as a genuine effort to gently give this young fledgling family the space they appear to be seeking. A loving attitude, even as you give them space, will help leave the door open for the future reunion that your broken heart desires.

One more idea is to make sure you have a lot of support right now. You are processing a lot, and sometimes fresh experiences of loss (such as how you're feeling about the loss of a close relationship with your younger son) can trigger the need to revisit other losses, such as grief for your late husband. Make sure you have friends, family, and/or a therapist whom you can talk to about any/all of these things so that you're not processing these feelings in isolation. We are not meant to handle loss alone, so be sure you have a good support network as you navigate this next chapter.

It's Your Decision, Although There Are Legal Implications You Should Be Aware Of

Cheryl Katz-Erato is a senior associate at Cona Elder Law, Long Island's award-winning Elder Law, and Trusts and Estates law firm. Cheryl's practice is devoted exclusively to trusts and estates, including estate litigation, estate, and asset protection, probate, and estate administration.

Dear Broken-Hearted Mom,

Although it is entirely your decision if you want to change your will to disinherit or treat your younger son differently from your older son, there are some legal implications that you should be aware of before doing either. In New York State, you are legally permitted to disinherit your child, there is no law stating that you must leave any portion of your estate to your children (this is different from New York's laws concerning a spouse who cannot be disinherited in most circumstances). However, by signing a will that disinherits (or leaves less) to your younger son, you may be creating an expensive legal battle for your older son to tackle after you pass away. Consider New York's general probate procedure: your will is really just considered a "piece of paper" until the Judge of the appropriate Surrogate's Court approves its validity (this is called the probate process and your will is "admitted to probate" when a Judge says it is a valid instrument). However, before your will is admitted to probate, certain individuals are provided with legal notice and given an opportunity to appear in Court to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the preparation and execution of the will, which ultimately could lead to a will contest.

For you especially, it is important to know that in New York State, a child of a decedent is always provided with this legal notice. Thus, if your younger son is dissatisfied with his bequest under your will (if any), he can commence litigation and contest the will. Of course, if you name your older son as executor (which I presume you would base on your provided story), your older son is going to bear the burden of defending your will and, in some instances, will also have the burden to prove to the Court that the will truly demonstrates your intent, among other things. Will contests are like civil lawsuits—they include pleadings, discovery (depositions, voluminous documents being exchanged), and even a jury trial when one is demanded. Indeed, Surrogate's Court litigation is often emotional, time-consuming, and very expensive. So, how do you prevent this?

Based on your family tree and the differing relationships you have with your two sons, a seasoned trusts and estates litigation attorney would be of great use to you. One strategy to prevent Surrogate's Court litigation would be putting your assets in a revocable trust to entirely avoid the probate process. A revocable trust is like a legal contract and does not require probate. Another would be to name joint owners or beneficiaries on every single one of your assets (although this is not always possible for certain types of assets) to prevent an estate from ever existing—thus, preventing probate. Another strategy would be to sign a will leaving less (although still something substantial) to your younger son but have a no-contest clause included in your will. These clauses are quite useful because it would mean if your younger son unsuccessfully challenged your will's validity through a will contest, he would forfeit his entire interest under the will. For example, let's say you have an estate valued at $1 million. You sign a will leaving 85 percent of your estate to your older son and 15 percent of your estate to your younger son with a no-contest clause included. If your younger son allows your will to be admitted to probate, he will receive approximately $150,000 before expenses. However, if your younger son decides to fight the will and he loses that fight, he loses his entire $150,000!

This information is provided for illustrative purposes only and actual advice is dependent on each actual case specifics.