My ex's grandmother left me some money -- should I share it with him?

He treated me terribly and I'm still getting over it. And I'm not sure what she intended.

Published March 13, 2007 10:48AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I read your column regularly and never thought I'd be writing to you, but I've got a dilemma that I'm having trouble coming to grips with.

I recently left my partner of five years after enduring a string of infidelities and lies. I'm currently trying to get my life together but the experience has left me devastated, in a terrible emotional state. My ex's elderly grandmother died several months before the split, and it was always expected that there would be an inheritance for him and his brother -- we had been planning to use his part of it for a down payment on a house. I've just discovered that the final will dictates that each brother's inheritance is to be split between them and their partners; i.e., I'm entitled to half of my ex's money, almost $10,000 each. I wasn't particularly close to his grandmother, although we had a good relationship and she fondly regarded me as part of the family.

I earn more than my ex, who is a struggling artist without much money, but I could really use the cash for things like paying off student loans. Of course, my ex is now counting on this money to contribute to his higher education and to help him settle down.

I don't feel right interfering with the grandmother's overall legacy and don't want to encourage resentment from my ex or his family, but she did leave the money to me, in my name. I also realize that if she had left it all to my ex, he hadn't acted selfishly and irresponsibly, and I had stayed with him, I would have shared money that would have been spent on us building a life and household together. (I have a feeling this is what she intended by the gesture -- although of course no one will ever truly know.)

I'm just not sure if I should keep all of my share, keep part of it or give it all back. I'm trying not to think of it as payback for all the hurt and suffering my ex has caused me, as I know those kinds of experiences don't have price tags. But part of me feels quite justified in taking it after all he has put me through. I wonder if karma is at work here.

What should I do?

Getting My Payback

Dear Payback,

This sounds fairly straightforward to me. If your ex's grandmother's estate is properly executed, I would think that the executor would see to it that a check is given to you directly in the correct amount. If that does not happen, or if your ex makes a demand for the money, I think you should consult a lawyer. But if the money simply comes to you, in accordance with the instructions in his grandmother's will, then the question is more how to handle the competing emotions you are feeling.

If legal questions arise, see a lawyer. But as to the ethical question, I think it's straightforward. Your ex's grandmother left you some money. It's yours to do with as you see fit. And as to your competing emotions: As you say, the experience of this breakup has been devastating. You left your ex because he treated you badly. It will take you some time to recover. So while you may feel pity for him now, as he is sure to be going through some difficulties, and as you may feel that the matter of family complicates the issue, your task is to let him go and take care of yourself.

That means accepting the money and using it wisely.

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