Dear Annie: My father-in-law and mother-in-law died a couple of years ago, months apart from each other. When it came to settling the estate, the will stated in clear and precise terms that everything was to be divided 50-50 between my sister-in-law, ''Jackie,'' and my wife. We did as they requested.
A few months later, Jackie contacted my wife saying she had discovered $110,000 in cash stashed away in their parents' house. (My father-in-law had a distrust of banks, given that he grew up during the Depression, and he told me that he always kept a large amount of money handy for ''financial emergencies.'') My wife was given her share of the cash, $55,000. The found money was timely because my daughter was getting married, and we had some bills of our own that needed paying.
A year later, Jackie contacted my wife to say that we need to return the $55,000 because that money was "promised" to her by my in-laws for building them a house.
My wife refused to return the money, not only because we don't believe Jackie but because we can't afford to withdraw this from our savings account. As a result, Jackie has written letters and sent text messages that are very nasty and hurtful.
Her tirades are now bordering on harassment. We have asked her to stop sending text messages and to call us or meet in person instead, but she refuses. Recently, my wife reached out to Jackie with an olive branch on Jackie's birthday, sending a nice card with a beautiful message. In return, Jackie sent back the card and enclosed in it a four-page letter that was extremely hurtful.
I thought about reaching out to her husband, "Leon," but he's very unstable, too. Their son, who is in college but can't drive because of previous accidents, called us crying the other day because his father is threatening suicide because he is tired of driving his son everywhere. You can't make this stuff up.
We are very concerned about Jackie's mental health. My wife, daughter and I believe that Jackie needs counseling to get a better grip on reality. I am also concerned about my wife, who is taking all of this very hard. What should we do? -- Family Feuding
Dear Feuding: I'll start with the two people you and your wife can control: you and your wife. This familial stress is negatively impacting her health, and it sounds as if it's doing a number on yours, too. Make your own mental health a priority and consider attending some counseling.
Now, I also believe that Jackie would benefit from therapy. But until she believes that herself, there's little you can do. You might be able to get help for her husband, whether he wants it or not, however. Laws vary by state. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) for more information about the steps you can take. When a person threatens to kill himself, it's always best to take him seriously.
Try to be there as much as you can for your nephew. Maybe you could give him a ride once or twice a week. This would alleviate some of the pressure his father is evidently feeling, but more importantly, it would show your nephew that he's not alone. It sounds as if he is bearing the brunt of his parents' issues and could use some help.