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Ask Dave

Your Mother-In-Law Is A Thief

Bill says his wife inherited $100,000 from her grandmother. His mother-in-law intercepted the money and spent it. How can he help his wife through this so that her relationship with her mother isn't ruined?

QUESTION: Bill in Kansas City says his wife’s grandmother died a year ago and left them a $100,000 inheritance. His mother-in-law intercepted the money, spent it, and won’t give them the money now. How can he help his wife through this so that her relationship with her mother isn’t ruined?

ANSWER: Let’s pretend for a second that we stacked $100,000 in $100 bills in the center of your kitchen table. When you weren’t home, your mother-in-law kicked the door in and took the cash off the table. What would we call her? A thief!

If your wife is angry with her, I would say she has a reason to be. What kind of parent steals from their children? She needs to understand and your wife needs to understand and you need to understand this is not an “interception” of an inheritance. This is called thievery. We need to start there. Your mother-in-law needs to repent of this and walk away from it in a way as if she had stolen your car—times 10. She stole 10 of your cars. That’s what’s happened here.

I do want the relationship to stay intact. Relationships are more important than money. But a thief is somebody I want to have a guarded relationship with even if they’re in my family. Forgiveness is different than reconciliation. Forgiveness is, “I forgive the dog for biting me because he’s a dog, and dogs bite.” Reconciliation is, “I’m not silly enough to pet him again. It’s a dog that bites. He’s on a chain.” You have to have a different type of relationship once somebody’s kicked your teeth in. That’s not lacking in forgiveness. That’s not lacking in spiritual maturity. On the contrary, that is spiritually and emotionally and mentally healthy.

I’m going to start with the idea that it’s okay with your wife to be angry with her mother. She’s a thief. Then let’s work backward from there on developing forgiveness and rebuilding the relationship over time. That means that over time, Mother ceases stealing from us.

I think it’s worthy to chase the relationship down and try to rebuild it, but that is based on your mother-in-law standing up and going, “Hey, I’m a thief. I stole this. I had no rights to it.” That starts there. I’m taking a little bit different tact than maybe you thought I was going to here, but that’s the way I look at it. I wouldn’t use the word “intercepted” again. I would use the word “stolen.” She didn’t intercept it; she stole the inheritance and literally could go to jail for that. That’s grand larceny at this level. Criminal fraud. Misuse of power and access. There are a bazillion ways they could go after her. I’m not trying to get her to go to jail. That’s up to you guys, but I am saying that it is proper for your wife to be angry. It is not proper for her to stay angry. Yes, she should then turn and forgive her mother, but then to reconcile with her mother and have a quality relationship going forward is dependent upon the mother’s actions over an extended period of time.