What is the proper etiquette for dealing with my deceased Mom’s jewelry?
December 16, 2005 12:57 PM   Subscribe

What is the proper etiquette for dealing with my deceased Mom’s jewelry?

Several years ago, my Mom passed away, and my Dad has since remarried. Up until now my Dad has kept all of my Mom’s jewelry. He would like to give a piece of my Mom’s jewelry to my Stepmom and he has approached me to help sound out the interested parties and find out the proper etiquette in this situation. I am OK with the situation, but I am appealing to the AskMeFi community to find out what is normal or proper in this situation since both my Dad and I seemed to have missed the class on jewelry etiquette and heirlooms that all women seemed to have attended at some point.

Here are the important details. My Dad has two natural born children, a son (me) and a daughter. Both me and my sister are grown and married and either have a kid of our own (me) or are close to starting a family (my sister). My Stepmom has a son who is a high school senior. So far, my Stepmom has not accepted any jewelry that belonged to my Mom.

Are there situations in which it would be OK for a woman to accept jewelry that had belonged to her husband’s deceased spouse? What is your reaction? Also, what do you think the proper etiquette is in this situation?

According to my wife’s family tradition, all of my Mom’s jewelry should go females who are direct descendants. So they would go to my sister and might eventually go to any daughters of me or my sister, but would not go to my stepmom or my wife (as an in-law). What are your traditions?
posted by Tallguy to Human Relations (33 answers total)
The same as yours, Tallguy. I can't believe your father is even thinking about doing this. I can't believe your stepmother isn't creeped out.

The etiquette is Don't Do It. And he should buy something nice for the stepmother that she can have for her own, which would make things more special for her in any case.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2005

I know of a situation where the jewelry passed to the daughters, and one daughter gave the new stepmom a piece as a symbol of the childrens' acceptance of her into the family. But I think in that case, the deceased had been in the habit of trading/passing around jewelry and they thought it was "something mom would have done."
posted by bcwinters at 1:05 PM on December 16, 2005

I agree with your wife's family's tradition. The jewelry should go to your sister, or even to you to give to your daughter, should you have one.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2005

There is no such thing as jewelry etiquette.

IMHO, your family is way too hung up about "traditions." I suppose if you're talking about major league diamonds, emeralds, and what not, these "traditions" help to ensure that stuff of value doesn't end up going to (heavens) the less-deserving wives of the male progeny, and maybe they are worth bickering over. But etiquette would say, it is totally up to your dad.

Unless the stuff is going to end up enabling you to put your kids through college, what are you actually concerned about? That your stepmom gets something she doesn't deserve? Why should she have to "accept" it?

Assuming that Dad loves her, and that she's bringing happiness to him, it is none of your business what he does with the stuff, even if he wants to drape all of it on her.

Certainly, it would be nice if he gave some of it to his offspring and their spouses, male or female, direct descendants or not. But it is up to him.
posted by beagle at 1:11 PM on December 16, 2005

That jewelry should go to children, a child's spouse, or grandchildren. Nieces and nephews if the others aren't available.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:12 PM on December 16, 2005

The "proper etiquette" is whatever you and your family decide...I think it depends on how you, your Dad and your Sister (particularly) think your Mom would feel about. I think if you ask yourselves that question, you'll know what to do.
posted by unccivil at 1:16 PM on December 16, 2005

Lyn Never is right. The jewelry should go to the children and not the stepmother.

The etiquette for splitting up jewelry is (according to my mother who had to do this with her mother's jewelry):

One for you, one for me.
One for you, one for me.

posted by DragonBoy at 1:27 PM on December 16, 2005

Maybe stepmom wears the jewelry, but it still passes as tradition states?

FWIW, I am the owner of my maternal grandma's engagement diamons, and my husband's paternal grandma's diamond tennis bracelet and three rings. His grandma gave them to me while she was still alive (and before we were married), so maybe that makes a difference. I don't know.

And, I think it probably depends on the sentimental value of the jewelry. If it were me, I would not want my stepmom to have my mom's enagement/wedding ring. But other stuff, sure. Assuming I like the woman.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2005

I'd be creeped out if I received jewelry that belonged to my husband's dead first wife. That said, I'm young and unmarried. Also, if my mom died and someone gave her jewelry to a person I didn't know that well, I'd be pissed. Posessions of the deceased, right or wrong, often get tangled up in the way people feel about the particular person, and take on value that objectively they shouldn't have. I'd suggest the idea to your sister (whether by flat-out asking her or just bringing the idea up in vague terms) and be prepared for a negative response. Also, unless your dad knows his wife will appreciate the gesture, he should feel the situation out as well. Also, frankly, you should ask your wife since her thoughts on this matter too, now that you're part of each others' lives.

In my family, anything other than equal division between natural children would be highly offensive and hurtful. But it's your family and ancestors and values and whatnot that count.
posted by lorrer at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2005

In my family the jewelry is generally passed to the natural daughters. But on occasion a wife by marriage gets a piece. My mother got a very nice watch from my paternal grandmother that way. Basically my grandmother thought of my mom as her own daughter.

In your case I'd let your sister decide. She may never feel comfortable enough to share them, she may have a very strong attachment to the items. Your dad is basically giving away her inheritance.
posted by oddman at 1:31 PM on December 16, 2005

(natural above includes those adopted, but not those via marriage after the kids are out of the house)
posted by lorrer at 1:32 PM on December 16, 2005

I believe mother's jewelry generally goes to the daughters, if any. They very often want it for closure/symbolism/whatever. If you, the son, want some for whatever reason ("Honey, this belonged to your grandmother..."), perhaps you and you sister should share.

I think it is not unexpected for Dad to want to hang on to some or all of the jewelry. It reminds him of his wife. But giving it to step-mom is more than a little weird in my book - for the same reason. Buy her new jewelry, great, no problem. But something that reminds her and him of his dead wife? No... I think your wife's family tradition is about right.

Your sister and you should have done something about the jewelry long ago. Your stepmother shouldn't be, and hopefully won't be, offended if you two step into this now. It's not about her, it's about two children's memories of their dead mother.

From a legal standpoint, it's your father's jewelry and he is free to do whatever he wants with it. But I think offspring, and especially female offspring, have a very strong claim on such symbolic things and he ought to honor their wishes.

If your father died and you wanted his Zippo or his pocketknife or his briar pipe or his cufflinks, I'd argue the same for the you.

You didn't mention anything about what your sister wants to do. If the two of you disagree about the disposition, remember "I cut, you choose".
posted by jellicle at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2005

What Lyn said. The only exception I'd make might be to offer an engagement ring or wedding band to the son (you) for your wife. That's how we did it in my family. Except, the son turned out to be gay, so we're all sort of of waiting to see what he does with the ring. Perhaps he can wear it on his penis.
posted by astruc at 1:51 PM on December 16, 2005

Traditionally, the daughters have dibs. However, I would amend this to children of any gender. My grandmother (Dad's side) wanted my mom to have certain things too, because they were close.

In this situation it depends on your stepmother's relationship with her stepkids. Assuming everyone is getting along here, the appropriate thing would be for you and your sister to sign off on your dad giving your mom's stuff away.
posted by desuetude at 1:57 PM on December 16, 2005

My reaction is that I must have also missed that jewlery class, because what you are suggesting seems okay to me, provided that

1. your sister is okay with this, just as a courtesy
2. your stepmom isn't creeped out, because why bother if she thinks it's a bad idea?
3. this isn't going to make you and your wife fight.

Note that I'd also think it would be appropriate for your father to at some point in time give something to your wife. Traditions vary dramatically from family to family, and may vary for all sorts of reasons. In my family my sister and I each got a bracelet from my grandmother when she was old but well before she died because my grandmother wanted us to enjoy them while she was alive. My mother has occasionally handed down jewlery to me. I have no idea if my step mother has been the recipient of any of my deceased grandmother's jewlery but if she was, that seems appropriate and reasonable to me. It would not occur to me to have designs on anything short of a long-term family heirloom from either of my parents. So, in short, I'm sort of with uncivil, if your family doesn't have a long-standing tradition, you can either start one of your own, or get all tied up in etiquette. If the two outcomes are basically the same, that's good news for you, but if they conflict, I'd go with whatever feels right to you, your Dad and stepmom and your sister.
posted by jessamyn at 2:01 PM on December 16, 2005

Have you no consideration for a woman's feelings?
Handing over my belongings to a total stranger!
How can you let her take my place?
Live in my house
Carry my keys
And wear my clothes

Like so many have said, leave this to your sister. I've been in a similar situation, and no matter how nice you are or how much you like the new wife, it's hard not to develop a slow burn as you see your (grand)mother's jewelry on that bitch pretender other person. Also, if I were the new wife, no way would I wear her jewelry. If there were no heir and a lot of insisting, I'd at least have the stone reset.
posted by mimi at 2:02 PM on December 16, 2005

This caused a HUGE issue in my mom's (very traditional) family. The husband gave his new wife the jewelry... and 25 years later, some parties are still not on speaking terms (crazy, I know.)

My advice is to give it to your sister (or you, but it doesn't seem to be as big a deal for you), and let her decide what to do. If you and your sister are on great terms with your step-mom, giving some part of the jewelry to her would be great as a welcome-to-the-family/we-accept-you gesture (as has already been suggested by previous posters.) Otherwise, the new step-mom should really not be a factor in this decision -- it should definitely pass on to the daughter.
posted by ruwan at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2005

The jewels passed from the deceased to your father, right?
They are his property? He's not holding the items in trust for the grandchildren?

So the etiquette is:

You're father has been extra-special polite by asking you if you have a problem with his gifting some of his own property to his wife.

You be extra-special-polite and tell him, "Of course not." so he can do what he wants to do (give her the jewellery).

People who think they (or their children) have a "right" to an inheritable item are completely wrong. Greedy and wrong. Scrooge and Marley wrong.

Inheritance is an honour, not a right.

He's not dead yet. His property - his decision.

On my mother's side, this kind of "traditional inheritance" has produced years of sniping and emotional knee-capping as various heirs have maneuvered to "guarantee" certain items go to their daughters ahead of others. The infighting has become so vile, I have foresworn contact with that part of my family in anything more than a perfunctory way.

Beware traditions of acquisition and inheritance.
posted by Crosius at 2:10 PM on December 16, 2005

I am going to concur with a lot of posters here and posit that Crosius has missed the point. I think the question was not about greed or ownership but more about the appropriateness of giving your new wife your dead wife's jewelry. I will concur with a lot of people here and say that no - its grossly inappropriate. I understand your fathers attachment to the jewelry and the reminders it must have for him but to mix that up with his new wife just seems really creepy to me and as the new wife I'd be pretty offended.
As others have also said that while it is his property it would be fairly selfish of him not to offer his children a chance to take something that may be a very strong reminder of their mother before he gave it away or sold it. I have a bunch of costume jewelry and one very nice piece from my grandmother - and I'm very glad I do.
Buy the new woman new gifts - regifting a dead woman's possessions strikes me a seriously disrespectful of all the parties involved.
posted by Wolfie at 2:27 PM on December 16, 2005

I would suggest that if there's some piece(s) that might be extra special to your sister (and/or you) that he be made aware of that and not gift the step-mom with those particular pieces. Otherwise, I don't see a real problem with it.

I'd also suggest that if the jewelry in question are gemstones that he take the time and effort to have them reset into something new for the step-mom to make it more "hers" and less "the previous wife's".

I have seen first hand in my own family what the attitude of "that was supposed to be MINE" can do, and it's ugly. Unless it was stated in your mom's will that you and your sister get the jewelry, he's pretty much free to give it to anyone he wants to give it too whether it upsets anyone or not. The fact that he asked first means he is taking everyone's feelings into consideration, so the best thing you and your sister can do is be honest with him about how you feel and also take his into consideration as well.
posted by Orb at 2:28 PM on December 16, 2005

Just to add, for a bit of perspective. I never got to meet my maternal grandmother or grandfather. Everything that I have received that once belonged to them is something I cherish more than any of my other possessions.

Giving it to your stepmother probably won't make much of a difference since your children or your future neices/nephews will probably never know, and you or your sister might not be particularly concerned about it - but I thought I'd bring it up in case it's helpful.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:29 PM on December 16, 2005

It's not just this generation you need to worry about. The coming generations may think it's really great to have something that was gradma's or great grandma's. They may also think it really sucks if step-cousin, twice removed, Lucy, is traipsing around with it.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:41 PM on December 16, 2005

Your stepmom sounds pretty classy to decline jewelry. My former sister-in-law returned the family diamond ring when she and my brother divorced - another class act.

I like the idea that it would be left to you, your sister(s), or your children if he gave it to StepMom. But. It's just stuff. The only emotional weight it carries is the weight you give it. If there are pieces of your Mom's jewelry you want, or want for your kid(s), ask politely if your Dad would consider it. It would be nice for your Dad to save wedding/engagement rings and any really sentimental items for the kids/grandkids. I wouldn't want to wear my predecessor's wedding rings.

Of course, if I don't someday end up with my Mom's pearls, I'm gonna have a hissy-conniption fit.
posted by theora55 at 2:47 PM on December 16, 2005

Jewlery, in my family, passes to the female offspring. Daughters > granddaughters ~ neices > son's daughters

Strangely, though, I inherited my paternal grandmother's engagement ring (with the idea that I'd profer it to my future fiance) after she passed on -> paternal grandfather passed on.

I like what happened in bcwinter's case - but only if the inheritors truly felt like welcoming the stepmother into the family.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:08 PM on December 16, 2005

I think that first and foremost, your father should determine if your stepmother actually does want a piece of jewelry that belonged to her husband's first wife? I wouldn't want anything that belonged to my husband's first wife (although that was a divorce, and the ex-wife has been unreasonably nasty to me). theoretically, if my husband had been widowered instead of divorced when I met him, I'd rather the jewelry get passed on to the kids and I got something new. Of course, I don't really care for jewelry all that much, at least not the precious stone pass-on-to-kids variety, so YMMV.
posted by Shoeburyness at 3:52 PM on December 16, 2005

My grandmother passed away when my father was in college, and when his father remarried, he gave all my grandmother's jewelry to his new wife. They divorced shortly thereafter, and she kept it all. Everyone tells me I am so much like my grandmother, and I am desperate to know everything I can about her and feel connected to her, and I wish more of her things were still around. Including her jewelry.

If your stepmom is turning down the jewelry thinking along these lines, she is a real class act. I don't think it would be rude of her to take it if she was offered, and I don't even think it's rude for your father to offer it to her, but there are other family issues to think about.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:51 PM on December 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Jewelry is funny stuff. While one of its functions has been to decorate the fair sex, for a certain class of people it's had another role, which is to act as a store of value - sometimes large amounts of value. It may also take on a role as a sentimental reminder of its owner.

Let's assume we're not talking about a chintzy aluminum bangle; let's assume we're talking about something like a pendant or a bracelet that includes ten 2-carat flawless diamonds, lesser stones, and some elaborate workmanship. This is something that has a value equivalent to a good-sized house.

If this has been passed along from mother to daughter for some time, etiquette says that it continues to do so - because it is a store of value for that matrilineage. I'm sure that people who claim there is no etiquette in such matters, or that inheritance is crap, simply don't have such things in their family and hence never thought about the issues involved.

Once you draw the line on the value of the item as something that, monetarily, isn't important to you, then you're left with the sentimental function of the jewelry. This is best determined by the people involved, but here's a data point from my perspective: I can't think of too many things more crass than giving your dead wife's jewelry to your new wife. I might not tell you so, but behind closed doors I'd be shaking my head and clucking 'tsk-tsk'.

If your sister wants her mom's jewelry, I would expect that you'd be supportive of that.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:56 PM on December 16, 2005

If you and your sister are not uncomfortable with it, it's not the least bit inappropriate. And who's to say your natural mother wouldn't want your father to share that jewelry with the person he's sharing his life with now?

The only condition I would insist on is that the ring (or whatever) stay in the immediate family. Should something happen to your stepmother, it should pass on to you or your sister, not your new stepbrother.
posted by aladfar at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2005

While the ettiquette of jewellery inheritance may *technically* be that whoever owns the jewellery can do whatever they like with it, I'd be pretty disgusted if dad gave any of mum's jewellery to his current girlfriend...

Not because I want it all for myself (I don't), but because I'd like to see mum's things passed on to people who will treasure them for their sentimental value. And as ikkyu2 said, it's pretty crass to give your dead wife's jewellery to your new SO.

But it's personal, and you don't have to feel the same as I do. I feel like if you and your sister are cool with it, then there's no big deal.

If you're *not* cool with it, tell your dad. To me it seems like he's asking you because he doesn't want to hit a nerve, so if he is, let him know.
posted by ancamp at 5:42 PM on December 16, 2005

Ugh, there is nothing greedy, materialistic or wrong about wanting family jewelry. I grew up playing in my grandmother's jewelry box, and listening to her tell stories about where each piece came from. If she had died and my grandfather had given it to some new wife, I would be extremely upset. For many people, jewelry is an extremely personal thing - it has value attached to it that is not just monetary. The pieces I have inherited remind me of history, relationships, and my place in the family line. I don't enjoy wearing them because they are pretty or expensive, but because they make me feel close to my family.

However, since not everyone feels that way, then there is nothing wrong with giving it to her if no one would be hurt. But as far as tradition goes, it is pretty far outside of ettiquite norms to give the jewelry to the new wife.
posted by gatorae at 5:43 PM on December 16, 2005

etiquette, jeez
posted by gatorae at 5:44 PM on December 16, 2005

I had the same emotional experiences as gatorae - sittiing at my Grandmother's side while she told stories about the jewelry and let me try on pieces. She had a ton of stuff -both old costume jewelry and nicer pieces, some junk as well. After her death my 2 female cousins and I were given the jewelry by our Aunts and Uncles (Grandpa had already passed) - it was such a healing time for us to sort through her jewelry and we had not one disagreement about who would get what.

This was also passed to me - an art piece Grandma made back in the 60's. I plan to make more for sons with some of the other jewelry I was given (yes there was tons of it) - with the intention that it be passed to their daughters should they have any, their sons otherwise (not their wives, I prefer it go to direct descendants).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

As for your step-mother, if she isn't offended by the offer (I would be - jewelry imho is to be bought and given with a specific woman in mind) and your sister is also okay with the offer, then I see no problem with it.
posted by LadyBonita at 9:39 PM on December 16, 2005

It's times like these I'm glad my family doesn't have anything worth money.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:42 AM on December 17, 2005

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