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Grandma’s Car

This story developed over the course of a few years, finally “resolving” a few months ago.

As my grandmother was getting older, everyone in the family was anticipating the unfortunate yet inevitable day when she would be unable to drive her own car. Since we knew how much she valued being able to run her own errands, my father and aunt held off having that talk for as long as possible.

For most of this time, my grandmother told my sister that she would receive the car when that day came. We didn’t take this as an iron-clad agreement, but we did believe that eventually the car would be my sister’s, barring any mechanical issues. However, word trickled through the grapevine that my eldest cousin would occasionally call my grandmother and ask outright if the car could be his when she couldn’t drive it anymore!

We were all wary of this and hoped that our grandmother would remember that she had promised the car to my sister, especially since my cousins would often get hand-me-down cars from their other grandmother. While neither set of grandchildren was entitled to any car from either grandmother, we thought it was fair that this car would come to our family if Grandma decided.

One night we got the call that my grandmother was in the hospital following a heart attack. She was in weak, but stable condition and we all went to visit her for a few hours. While we sat, my aunt explained that one of their cars had broken down, so two of my cousins were getting a ride from a friend because my aunt had arrived straight from work and could not pick them up. After my cousins arrived, they and my aunt eventually decided to “borrow” Grandma’s car until theirs could be fixed. My family saw warning lights, but kept quiet because the visit was about being with our grandmother and not squabbling over her property.

When Grandma recovered, it was sadly decided that she was unfit to drive anymore. As far as I know, the question of the who would get the car was never brought up with her, although my father decided not to put up a fight for it with my aunt to avoid conflict in an already tense and emotional situation. The car stayed with my cousins even though Grandma, as far as I know, had never explicitly said they could have it. Occasionally she would ask where it had ended up (her memory isn’t what it used to be), and we would remind her that it was at her daughter’s house. We never spoke to her about how it ended up there.

A few months later, we learned that my eldest cousin had never transferred the ownership, and that there had been some minor damage to the car for which my grandmother had been billed. My father reminded my aunt that the ownership should be transferred, and then didn’t bring it up again because a) it wasn’t his business and b) she and her son are adults who should not need to be pestered to take care of the transfer. Fast forward to a few months later, and we learn that the car has been totaled after less than a year with my cousin. I forget if the ownership and insurance had been transferred by then, but I suspect it had not. 0327-14

I think your father is doing an admirable job keeping the focus on grandmother and not making an issue over a material possession.  I would caution you to be careful not to get sucked into the drama over property before Grandma dies lest you start to look like a greedy pig squabbling with relatives over who gets what.  Dignity and pride should be far more valuable than any car and if the cousins and aunts want to expose themselves as shallow, greedy and petty, let them.     You stay above the fray like your father is doing.


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  • Marozia April 9, 2014, 4:59 am

    It shows how much your cousin cared about gran’s car (and gran!!), to total it in a year!
    Stay above the greedy pigs and don’t squabble over material possessions.

    • The Elf April 10, 2014, 8:46 am

      In all fairness, it may not be cousin’s fault that the car was totalled. Some accidents can’t be helped. For instance, if cousin was at a stoplight and someone rear-ended them, pushing them into the intersection where cross traffic hit the front, it could very easily total the car and the cousin would not be at all at fault.

  • Ruby April 9, 2014, 6:19 am

    A car is usually a valuable commodity. Why didn’t this loving family think to SELL it and give the proceeds to LW’s grandma?

    I’m sure she could use some extra cash. It’s not like she has passed on. She simply can’t drive anymore.

    • Cat April 9, 2014, 7:37 am

      I agree. It seems to me that the cousin driving it owes grandmother for its blue book value since he destroyed her property. Why should she take the loss?

      • Kimstu April 9, 2014, 10:26 am

        Hear hear. When my mother was in her seventies, she made the choice to move to a city with good public transit and get rid of her car. None of her kids thought we were in any way entitled to the car as a family “perk”. Her car, her money.

        Now, if an elderly person hands over a car to a younger relative with the understanding that the recipient will take over the lion’s share of chauffeuring him/her around when required, I could understand the recipient expecting to get the car for free.

        And in this particular situation, it sounds like the OP’s Grandma had previously spoken about the car as though she expected to give it away to a grandchild (just not the particular grandchild who ended up with it). So I’m not surprised that the family isn’t thinking in terms of paying her for its value.

        But in general, yeah, I agree that elderly relatives should not be viewed in light of their “asset stripping” potential. Just because they have some possession they don’t want to use anymore doesn’t mean they’re obligated to transfer it to their descendants for free.

      • Miss Raven April 9, 2014, 2:16 pm

        Thirded. Even an older car that isn’t worth much is worth a few hundred dollars at CarMax. Especially considering your grandmother’s memory issues, this seems to me to be nothing more than taking advantage of her kindness and declining mental state.

    • The Elf April 10, 2014, 8:44 am

      That’s what I was thinking. If she’s in enough of a bad way to never be able to drive again, she probably requires some sort of assistance. That help doesn’t come cheaply. If nothing else, it’ll keep her in bus and taxi fare for a while.

  • Kimberami April 9, 2014, 6:30 am

    This is the same situation that will come up in my family when my Grandmother is no longer able to drive her car. I am not looking forward to it at all. I’ve gently spoken to her about making a decision now and telling all of her children about it, but it still hasn’t happened yet.

    • Teapot April 9, 2014, 8:18 am

      Grandma should be encouraged to sell the car and pocket the money. Where is it written that anyone is entitled to a free car?

      • Kitten April 9, 2014, 9:19 pm

        That might be one of the options they are encouraging or suggesting, but if waiting on the declaration occurs, often one relative (a greedy one) will outright decide Grandma wants them to have it when she can’t make the decision. It’s always better to have plans in writing.

  • Dominic April 9, 2014, 6:35 am

    The only caution I would have given would be regarding the legal and money issues for the grandmother to still have registered ownership and insurance in her name for a car someone obviously so irresponsible was driving. Is anyone assisting the grandmother with her legal affairs, or better yet, has power of attorney? While staying above the fray is admirable, allowing the grandmother to be exposed to liability, and basically have her assets stolen, is not.

    • JWH April 9, 2014, 10:24 am

      A very good point here. If nobody in the family is in dire need, then there’s no reason to squabble about Grandma’s car from an etiquette point of view. But if Grandma is reaching a point where she can’t make her own decisions because of mental incapacity, somebody in the family needs to take charge of Grandma’s financial affairs … and part of that responsibility is ensuring paperwork and ownership is in order in such a way that minimizes Grandma’s liability for these kinds of things.

  • JJ Fad April 9, 2014, 7:14 am

    OP, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always agree with the admin’s advice, but I’m 100% with her on this one. As infuriating as it might be that they totaled your poor grandmother’s car, the best thing for you to do is follow your father’s example. And if she gets slammed with any of the financial responsibility, there are ways you can help her, and I’m not talking about just paying the bill. If it comes up, get in touch with a lawyer about proving she wasn’t driving the car at the time of the accident. If you have to go that route, it’s going to be a long, drawn out headache… but you and your father seem like the type of people who’d do that for her without a second thought.

  • Cherry91 April 9, 2014, 7:47 am

    It’s sad when events like this bring out the true colours of people near to us. I do agree with the Admin that your Dad is doing the right thing by not letting it take any focus away from what is important here – your grandmother.

  • Kat April 9, 2014, 7:53 am

    Ruby – while that’s not a bad idea, we don’t know the family’s financial situation. Maybe that wasn’t necessary for them.

  • haji April 9, 2014, 8:00 am

    We had this happen in my family, with regards to my cousins taking ownership of grandma’s car after her paralyzing stroke. But while the vehicle was still in working order, my father and I (unwillingly, might I add) went in the night and took the car from their driveway while everyone was sleeping. (It had been verbally promised to my father, not my cousin, who was turning 16 soon.) There was the inevitable fallout from it, but dad really needed the car, so he just felt he should just take what was his. Frankly, he’s lucky he didn’t get us both arrested for it.

    • JJ Fad April 9, 2014, 9:37 am

      You’re justifying your father’s theft of a car by saying he *really* needed it? At best he should have returned it to your grandmother’s possession until she passed, leaving it to the executor (sp?) of her estate to distribute it. It doesn’t matter if it was “verbally promised” to your father, your cousin’s family had it, so by law he had no right to take it unless he could prove it was promised to him… which I’m guessing he knew he couldn’t, otherwise he wouldn’t have STOLEN it. Worse still, he made you an accessory to his crime!

      • remi April 9, 2014, 11:06 am

        Haji is not actually justifying it; they simply explained the father’s justifications for his actions. Haji was unwilling to do it, and seems to be fully aware that they both could have been arrested. I doubt you need to scold them.

        • gb April 17, 2014, 8:29 pm

          I’m so sick of people scolding each other over their opinions, especially when it’s not regarding the OP ‘ S story OR etiquette question. It’s good to relay a similar situation. It’s not good etiquette, in my opinion and unfair to the OP and readers.
          After I start reading this like this, I stop reading the comments all together. This is about etiquette! So have some!
          Yes, this is my opinion, and I’m sure I’ll get scolded for having it. I’ll choose silence.

      • PM April 9, 2014, 2:04 pm

        Haji isn’t justifying. S/he stated that they were an unwilling participant in the theft. S/he stated that they were lucky not to be arrested. This indicates a realization that the father’s actions were wrong.

      • Ellen CA April 9, 2014, 5:56 pm

        To me, “verbally promised” translates as “you can have my car” and as such, I don’t see this as theft, more like repossession so the legal owner of the car could distribute it as she chose.

        • JJ Fad April 10, 2014, 8:39 am

          And “verbally promised” is not legally binding. Haji is obviously very aware that what their father did was wrong, but in explaining that “poor” dad just totally really needed the car seriously you guys, they are attempting to soften the responsibility of the wrongdoing.
          And for the record, if you read my comment again, you’ll notice that was the only thing I “scolded” Haji for. I know first hand the emotional and moral trauma of being made to participate in something you know is wrong, by a parent no less. I was more incensed and angry that their father would not only do something like that, but make them go along with it.

    • Calli Arcale April 9, 2014, 11:25 am

      Did your cousins take ownership or just possession? Cars have titles, and that means that the old adage about “possession is 9/10th of the law” doesn’t really hold here. You’re right, though, that your father could have gotten in a lot of trouble — though if he had your grandmother’s blessing, it actually may not have broken the law. It would fall under the same category as a bank hiring a repo man to repossess a car. But she’d have to be willing to go to court to testify, and if she’s very ill, that may not be possible. And you’d have to go through the legal process, which is never fun and can be quite costly even if you win.

  • Jewel April 9, 2014, 8:21 am

    While retention of dignity (etc) is one upside of staying out of the fray, there’s also the fact that Grandma was still living at that point. The car was one of her assets that could have been liquidated to pay for her care. In their reluctance to not get involved, the OP’s family failed to look out for Grandma’s best interests.

    Secondly, it’s important to set clear boundaries in situations like this to prevent any family member from developing a sense of entitlement regarding Grandma’s property. By staying quiet, the OP’s father has set himself up to have quite a time pulling his sister back in line when it comes to enforcing their mother’s final wishes peacefully.

  • Zairrin April 9, 2014, 8:22 am

    This sort of thing happened in my family too. There’s just something about death that brings out the worst of us.

    Favourite grandchild got the car (my cousin, who totally deserved and needed it, no argument there.) but then his sister decided to get married. She wanted a Big White Wedding, despite having lived with this man for 20 years and having three children. And hey, if that’s what she wants, I’m not going to complain. Except she didn’t have the money for it, so she asked her mom, who also didn’t have the money for it, to pay…

    So his mom stole then sold her son’s car for CASH to pay for her daughter’s wedding. And what did Cousin get? A pick-up truck his mom paid $100 for (out of $7000 that went to the wedding) that broke down ON THE HIGHWAY within 24 hours.

    I could have killed that woman. Seriously, putting your own son’s life in jeopardy for a freaking wedding!? Not to mention, my brother was also in the truck at the time. So that’s TWO lives she could have been responsible for.

    What is it about cars that just drives (no pun intended) people to do awful things to supposed loved ones?

    • AE April 9, 2014, 12:55 pm

      All these stories remind me of why it is so very important to make sure full legal ownership of a car is properly transferred, whether you’re buying, selling, receiving or giving. Cars are both an asset and a liability and it’s best to make sure all the details are covered. It might be awkward at times to get other cooperate, it is not impolite to insist. Helpful Hint: When buying or selling a car privately, meet the other person at the DMV (or tax office or wherever is proper for your location) and take care of relevant fees and paperwork together.

      I think that the OP’s father is right to concentrate on grandma’s well being and peace of mind. But after the first incident, I don’t think that it would have been out of line for him to insist on a proper transfer of ownership for the car to shield her from liability.

      And no matter how much you trust someone, it’s not that great to have joint ownership or drive a car someone else technically owns. Apart from the dreadful possibility of the other person deliberately hurting you (personally or legally). There’s also the possibility of having “your” car confiscated to pay their debts.

  • Mary April 9, 2014, 8:32 am

    I was in a similar situation years ago and I feel your pain and irritation. My Grandmother had a nice looking car with moderate miles on it and as she grew older she asked me several times if I wanted it. My parents would take her out once a week for a meal, run errands, etc and each time Grandma would tell me that she would “sell it to me” – for $1 when the time came to give up her license. Well, it was a few years before she was ready to give up her license and suddenly my cousin got the car. Grandma’s mind/memory wasn’t what it once was. She pretty much gloated that *she* had Grandma’s car and it was “given to her for FREE!” and on and on she went. My Dad said, don’t say anything, let it go, it wasn’t meant to be. So, I never said a word. It wasn’t very long before cousin began to moan and groan about the dry rot tires, leaking back window, terrible gas mileage, and badly needed front end alignment – apparently Grandma hit many a curb in her days. We just quietly chuckled as cousin complained how car was nickeling and diming her.

    • DannysGirl April 9, 2014, 11:21 am

      Talk about car-ma!

  • Julia Houston April 9, 2014, 8:45 am

    I feel for you, OP, but when you’re in a situation like this, there’s nothing to be done unless you want to go to court, and I suspect you don’t (I wouldn’t want to). Something that could have been nice was made ugly by someone’s greed and lack of decency. I agree with the Admin and think the best thing is to forget about the car and concentrate on loving those who love you back.

  • twoferrets April 9, 2014, 8:48 am

    This is very much like what happened after my dad’s mother’s death almost 30 years ago– and yes, it’s very sad that it still has repercussions decades later. Grandma moved to Our City to be closer to at least one of her kids and a set of grandkids when I was around 7 years old. I think she chose Our City over other potential locations because it was in the same general area as her home, and safer than Metro Area where her daughter lived, not out of favoritism. But it did mean my dad helped her out quite a bit throughout the last years of her life, and she told him many times as her health began to fail that she wanted him to have her car.

    When she passed away, my adult cousins claimed the car and we never saw it again. My dad didn’t want to make waves about property after his mother died and they took advantage of that– I think she DID leave it to him in her will, too. It somehow filtered back to us years later that the car had been impounded because of unpaid tickets and myriad violations. And I haven’t seen a single one of those cousins, with whom I used to be (I thought) close, since Grandma’s funeral when I was 14- I think Dad did try to claim the vehicle after a suitable mourning period had passed, and they and their mother (his sister) flipped out. So sad, and so stupid.

  • SPuck April 9, 2014, 9:08 am

    I agree with the admin about not making a fuss over the car itself, but preventing people from taking advantage, financially, of a vulnerable, elderly family member is worth a fight.

  • Sharon April 9, 2014, 9:28 am

    I have been in a similar situation. My mother was married to my stepfather for 35 years. She was already suffering from dementia (although still living at home) when he died a few years ago. I am the executor for his estate and have power of attorney for my mother. Stepdad had a car with a Blue Book value of $5,000. Stepbrother needed a car and took it, and when I told him I felt he should pay Mom something (widow inherits all in this state, unless otherwise indicated in the will), he said that because it needed work he’d give Mom $2,000 when a small inheritance came his way. He got the inheritance but never paid Mom for the car. I brought it up once and he ignored me. Mom’s in a nursing home now and the expenses are outrageous, but to keep the peace I’m letting it go. Unfortunately $2,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to what she needs. It aggravates me, but it’s not worth an argument.

    • Enna April 12, 2014, 4:38 am

      He will get his come upance one day.

      • Enna April 12, 2014, 4:39 am

        If he ever asks you to loan him money say no – he never paid your mum $2000 for the car so he cleary can’t be trusted.

  • NostalgicGal April 9, 2014, 9:37 am

    My late father put down his keys voluntarily. I never asked, but I assume he went out one day and got a really good scare. His car was a subcompact, somewhat older, and somewhat, the miles that are useful had been run off it; it was into needing major dollar parts very soon. It also had an old style AC with a pinhole and converting that would have been more than the car was worth.

    I lived states away; and he decided I should BUY his car; which would have been okay if: it wasn’t 5 states away, didn’t need multithousands of parts soon to stay on road, wasn’t already at ‘tired’, wasn’t a car of make that I didn’t care for and didn’t want to adopt, and actually had working A/C. He hounded me for a few months; I finally leveled about all those points, and it was going to cost me twice what he wanted for it just to come get it.

    He sold it, the kid that bought it it self destructed on him within 3 months by the sounds of it; and dad moaned for close to a year later about I should have come up to get that car. I don’t think he knew about the fact that the major part issue had surfaced and the car was dead… my mom knew about it though.

    His father’s old 48 pickup low mileage and great shape, started such a war it was finally sold to someone on mom’s side to keep dad’s side from bloodshed and hiding bodies. The person divorced out not long after that so it was out of reach of everyone that thought it should be theirs just because they wanted it. Grandpa’s daily driver, got sucked up by the ‘living sponge’ of a daughter that also sucked up the house and most of the inheritance before she got caught and stopped. On hubby’s side, his mother’s father’s pickup was sold off and his father took the money (which was an issue that never did get sorted). Sigh.

    @ Mary, love it that they got what they deserved. I understand, you’d been promised it; but good that the cousin got the karma.

  • DGS April 9, 2014, 9:54 am

    Your father, OP, is a dignified man of much integrity to value his mother’s peace and family tranquility over picking fights with his and your gimme pig relatives. However, he should have an estate attorney consult with your Grandmother about her not having to pay for the total loss of the car due to her gimme pig grandson’s behavior. She should not be penalized, whereas perhaps, the gimme pig grandson would benefit from a much-needed lesson on personal responsibility. Proper provisions should be made to avoid squabbles that will inevitably take place in the healthiest and most functional of families with the demise of a loved one when vultures who value property over family come out.

  • inNM April 9, 2014, 9:56 am

    While I commend the OP’s father for keeping the focus on the ailing grandmother, a part of my mind keeps nagging me to ask: when grandma fell I’ll, did someone assume her power of attorney or next of kin to handle her business matters, like paying her medical expenses and non-medical bills. I assumed this person was also paying Grandma’s car insurance, despite the car being in Aunty/Cousin’s possession. To me, they should have been the one to organize the sale and/or transfer of the car, and not wait for Aunt/cousin to do it. The way I see it, Grandma’s power of attorney had three options: sell the car to them, do a cashless transfer of title, or insist upon the return of the car or else it will be reported as stolen.
    It sounds like I am unreasonably harsh, but if your cousin injured life or property in Grandma’s car, the injured party will sue the OWNER of the car, not the person driving. It is up to the owner to pursue a claim against the person driving the car either concurrently or after damages have been awarded. So, while your father’s decision may have brought peace to the house, it could have just as easily torn your family apart from fighting over who owes the money for a lawsuit if your cousin’s irresponsible driving. behavior injured anybody or their property.
    Unfortunately, it’s too late to do that…

    • Dee April 9, 2014, 10:44 am

      I agree with you, inNM, and with Dominic, that the issue here is about liability and Grandma’s POA. Whoever that is (and it should be someone, because clearly Grandma cannot manage her affairs alone anymore) should be handling any estate issues, which is what the car falls under. Beyond that, the OP doesn’t know that Grandma didn’t promise that car to someone else. This is Grandma’s business, to be dealt with by her and her POA, and not OP’s business.
      I just can’t imagine being close to a family member and yet spending any time worrying about who is getting her car. It’s a used car. It’s easily replaced. Grandma is not. Let it go.

    • Devil's Advocate April 9, 2014, 11:21 am

      Actually, this is incorrect. The injured party would have to sue both the owner of the car and the driver of the car. It would also be on the burden of the suing party to show that the owner of the car gave permission to the driver of the car to use the vehicle. This may be difficult to prove. Lastly, an insurance company is really who is going to step in here.

    • Kendra April 9, 2014, 11:43 am

      Like many PPs, I commend your father and you for keeping “above the fray”, but Grandma’s interests MUST be looked out for, especially if she is no longer able to watch out for her own interests.

  • JWH April 9, 2014, 10:32 am

    In my family (parents, adult offspring), we pass around the cars like candy. But every time one of the cars changes hands, there’s always a trip to the DMV and phone calls to the insurance companies.

  • Rug Pilot April 9, 2014, 10:35 am

    It is extremely dangerous to have a car out being driven regularly by someone else when it is registered to the legal owner. This happened to a friend of mine who actually sold his car to a stranger and never transferred the ownership himself. The stranger was involved in an injury accident and it was hell for my friend trying to get out of responsibility for it. The same thing could have happened to the grandmother in this example.

  • EllenS April 9, 2014, 11:13 am

    My main concern in this would be to ensure that Aunt and Cousin take any legal and financial responsibility for the wreck. If Grandmother is no longer able to drive and having memory problems, she will need her assets protected for her long-term care. Making sure Grandma’s finances are availible to take care of Grandma’s needs, takes precedence over any question of who else should have or use her property.

  • Devil's Advocate April 9, 2014, 11:18 am

    I both agree and disagree with admin. I agree that the way the car was handled was admirable and dealt with appropriately. I disagree about how the future should be handled. You have stated that your Grandma is failing in health and memory. I would make sure at some point (and I would do this quickly) that you speak to Grandma about estate planning. Does she have a will? Does she have a health care directive or durable power of attorney? Having her estate planned out prior to her death, her wishes physically put down on paper, and her wishes regarding her health (does she want a DNR? etc.) will make the future easier.

    Good planning–even when instigated by family members–does not make you shallow, greedy, or petty. It just means that you are looking out for your Grandmother and that you are trying to honor her wishes.

  • Library Diva April 9, 2014, 12:53 pm

    This happened to my husband. His grandfather lived with him. As he slowly tapered off driving, he let my husband use the car whenever he wanted, as much as he wanted. My husband kept it clean and gassed up, took it for regular oil changes, performed minor repairs to it himself, and took it to the shop for major fixes. When “the day came” that his grandfather was no longer going to be driving, he gave his car to his daughter (my husband’s aunt) who I’ve written about on here before.

    This woman is nothing but a greedy, lazy sponge. Her own grown children have nothing to do with her. The father of her children divorced her after she refused to get a job, do any housework, or take any responsibility for childcare. She remarried to someone exactly like her. They’ve scammed their way on to disability and never have two nickels to rub together — but they’ve always got their hands out. She would come over once a month to my husband’s house to do things with her father — always on the day his pension check came in. He was never a wealthy man, but she was determined to get whatever she could out of him. He always gave it because he couldn’t say no to her. That included the car. It was quite old at the time and was horrible on gas so in the long run, it’s no great loss. My husband just hated to see her get anything.

  • Linda April 9, 2014, 2:25 pm

    This terrible story shows how important it is to make decisions early and get something in writing. I imagine Aunty had a key to Grandma’s house and helped herself to the car. No one should have been driving it until Grandma was able to turn title over to the new owner. I bet it was a false emergency with the timing. Many people who were handed items of value do not appreciate them enough to take care of them.

    Any damage done by other drivers becomes the Grandmother’s responsibility. She will never collect her deductible from the cousins unless she sues which I doubt she will. Did the grandma keep paying for the insurance or were the cousins driving it without? That could be a huge legal mess.

    7 years ago my MIL’s car was given to my chronically unemployed SIL when she went into assisted living. The SIL has wrecked it several times and is addicted to pain meds from all her injuries. She should not even be driving. Now the car is older and needs big repairs. Of course, she has come begging to us.

  • LawGeek April 9, 2014, 3:06 pm

    We had the same thing happen in my family. I didn’t much notice, or care, when my cousin took ownership of the car, or totalled it. I did notice, years later, when the same cousin looted grandma’s closet soon after she died. At the time, I was in the living room with grandpa, comforting him in his time of sorrow.

    Turns out, my cousin underestimated our grandfather. He noticed her absconding with the (costume) jewelry and ratty old fur. He let her have them, and quietly hid the good silverware and china. A week later, he gave them to my mother, asking her to give me the silverware and enjoy the china but pass them on to me in her own will.

    My cousin found out about the china and made a stink. She went on about it for so very long that my mother had enough, and asked my permission to pass on some pieces to her at her bridal shower. I really don’t have a use for good china, so I agreed, glad to be rid of the burden of getting her a present. She never found out about the silverware, though. 🙂

  • Daphne April 9, 2014, 3:37 pm

    You are getting some great legal advice here, advice that I wish I would have had when I was in your situation years ago. I would like to add that If I were you at this point, I would start watching these people like a hawk. Because in hindsight, pilfering a car before our parents were actually dead should have been the first warning signal to us that my sister was going to go on an absolute thieving spree once they were gone. Keeping the peace when grandma is alive is important, but you also might want to let the cousins know that you will be keeping close track of any shenanigans going on in regards to grandma’s things and money.

    I wish I would have let my sister and her husband know from the get-go that I was aware of what they were doing and that I didn’t approve. As it was, because I didn’t want to upset anyone, they ended up with power of attorney, essentially bankrupting our mother, forging her will and stealing thousands of dollars.
    Just be careful–be forewarned that people who are capable of stealing a car in this manner just might have a warped sense of entitlement about other things as well.

  • JO April 9, 2014, 4:46 pm

    I had a very similar situation! A car was promised to me by my great aunt, but it wasn’t in her will, and when she died rather suddenly, her stepchildren swooped in and cleaned the place out! I wasn’t really upset about that; I didn’t much care for the car anyway (but even if I had, well, it wasn’t in the will, so what’s the point in arguing)? I was rather preoccupied, anyway, considering such a dear lady had passed unexpectedly. And what I really wanted was a painting, my great aunt was a gifted artist. Luckily my grandmother had some stashed away and let me choose one, since the stepchildren gave one to each of great aunt’s nephews, but nobody else! I think that was plain stinginess, she had dozens and they aren’t even valuable. My father had been promised a set of chairs, and my grandmother had to beg and plead for them to give them to him. They finally agreed to give him ONE. The broken one. *sigh* at least you can appreciate your grandmother for her, and not what you can get out of her. But it is the principle of the thing that irks, isn’t it?

  • Cherry April 9, 2014, 4:46 pm

    This thread is reminding me far too much of a storm that is currently looming on the horizon in my own family.

    I’m going to take from the sad stories shared here that verbal agreements are difficult to stick to when one of the people involved becomes impaired, and it’s best to get as much in writing as possible. And also, just because you would never cross the line of screwing over family, don’t assume they necessarily hold you in similar regard…

  • lakey April 9, 2014, 6:26 pm

    Good grief, is Grandma liable for personal injury and damage caused by the grandson driving her car? Has grandma been paying to insure this car? I don’t think you can insure a car unless it is in your name. Aside from the greed and dishonesty of just taking a car that belongs to grandma, this is completely irresponsible from a liability point of view.

  • lakey April 9, 2014, 6:28 pm

    In addition, if someone had suffered a serious injury in that accident, grandma would possibly be financially liable. If this is what I think it is, auntie needs her leash yanked, she could have endangered grandma’s finances.

  • lakey April 9, 2014, 7:03 pm

    In regard to an elderly person telling someone verbally that they can have certain items, you have to be very careful in this because dementia can sneak up on the elderly without their loved ones realizing that it is happening, at least at first.

    My parents collected antiques. My parents were very clear that everything would be divided evenly between the 6 siblings. My mother made lists of which antiques each of us would get, and labeled the antiques. However, when they got older, she would say to me, “Is there anything here you would like? If you want something you can take it.” This was after she had been developing dementia. Giving things away in this manner had never been her intention. Of course, I didn’t take anything. But there are relatives who take advantage of elderly people like this in order to get a head start on getting “stuff”. I’ve known of families where one or more siblings will try to talk a parent into giving the house to one child rather than leaving it to all of them. I’ve known of families where siblings are taking heirlooms out of the house. Often people are taking advantage of an elderly person who isn’t terribly clear on what is happening.

  • Kitten April 9, 2014, 9:29 pm

    This post and the comments are making me super grateful to be an only child. Also, I need to get my will set in stone before my children are old enough to squabble over belongings.

    • NostalgicGal April 22, 2014, 10:45 pm

      Being an only is not a gift either. Neither is chiseling out your will early.

      I’ve had PLENTY of drama already being the only; and expect a few boatloads more before the last dance. When my last parent goes I expect a full circus. Even if the parent or parents live with you, don’t expect you’re going to get off easy. Just look at the extended family dynamics now.

  • hakayama April 9, 2014, 10:18 pm

    “Let’s love each other like brothers but keep accounts like merchants” is an old Old World adage that also applies to the new New World.
    It is especially important in cases where there are known greedy unscrupulous relatives like the “vulpigs”* of so many commenters’ stories. Doing everything “by the book” and having a paper trail is probably one of the few ways of keeping the greedy individuals at bay.

    *vulpig — a revolting cross between pig and vulture. Unfortunately, usually it is not a hybrid as in most cases, it is capable of producing offspring that may favor one side over another.

  • Margaret April 10, 2014, 3:24 am

    There’s staying above the fray, and then there’s insuring that financial matters are dealt with in a business like manner. If Grandma had decided to give the car to that cousin, fine, her choice. But it sounds like she did not decide, and that is WRONG. Taking Grandma’s assets without her consent (or even with her consent if she is being coerced) is stepping into elder abuse territory. Elder abuse can be emotional, physical OR financial.

    My mom has seen a lot of fighting over estates, and it truly does rip families apart. It is so important to prepare LEGAL documents AND to let your family know what your plans are. Even if you believe that there will be total harmony amongst the descendants, you should have things spelled out and legal. It prevents fights and it protects everyone. Also, even if the beneficiary is a wonderful person, the person who inherits if that beneficiary dies might be awful. You never know.

  • Margaret April 10, 2014, 3:43 am


  • Kate April 10, 2014, 5:27 am

    We had a similar issue in my family – when Grandma moved into a nursing home and could no longer drive safely, one of my aunts offered to sell her car and transfer the proceeds to Grandma’s bank account. Six months later no money – turns out the aunt just kept the car as a THIRD vehicle for her family and didn’t pay Grandma a cent. The other seven siblings were furious, half because of the sheer rudeness of it, half because they were annoyed at themselves for not pulling the same scam (very interesting family dynamics there).

    Does somebody have power of attorney over your grandmother’s affairs? If so, I’d advise that they take your grandmother to a lawyer and get absolutely all of her wishes regarding her property in writing.

  • The Elf April 10, 2014, 8:51 am

    I think the take-away lesson here is: put it in writing. If Grandma really wanted the car to go to somebody in particular, and knew the day was coming soon when she couldn’t use it anymore, she should have put that person’s name on the title.

  • Whodunit April 10, 2014, 11:24 am

    Since there is nothing that can be done in OPs case here, I think it makes sense for us to discuss the etiquette of something like this happening to each if us in the future: and for me. I’ve devuded to never, ever take anyone at their ” word” for giving me something in the future. As for relatives passing, I refuse to think ill “get something” or demand my claim at someone’s death bed.

  • alkira6 April 10, 2014, 9:38 pm

    And this is why, even though we are in our mid-thirties, my husband and I have wills that are updated yearly, clearly defined beneficiaries on all life insurance/pensions, etc., and have clearly labeled the (few) things that we feel should stay with our respective birth families.

  • Enna April 12, 2014, 4:42 am

    Admin is right that it is important not to fall out with family however Grandma should not be taken advntage of. However if ownerhip has not been transfered does that mean the cousin who damaged the car was legal to drive the car? The cousin responsible should pay for the damage to be reparied and if a crime has been committed that cousin should take full responsiblity.

  • Mabel April 12, 2014, 8:50 am

    The cousins are irresponsible boobs. I had a similar situation in 2012. I was unemployed after a layoff, frantically job-hunting, and my old Buick was driveable but it needed work I couldn’t pay for or do myself. My parents decided to help (thank you Mom and Dad!) by purchasing a newer, used Chevy for me so I wouldn’t have to lie when employers asked me if I had reliable transportation. We decided to give the Buick to my cousin and her husband, who were living in a shelter due to hard times and poor choices. Her dad and her husband could both work on cars, they had friends willing to help them get parts, her dad said they could work on it at his house, and insurance on it was really low-priced too. I wanted to help them a little bit because they were family.

    They signed the paperwork and took the car. A few months later, I got an impound notice from the police department. Whaaa? I called and found out that 1) they NEVER REGISTERED IT–it was still registered to me–even though her dad gave them the money to do it; 2) her husband had driven it WITH NO REGISTRATION AND NO INSURANCE and was pulled over; 3) the car was impounded. The cops told me I wasn’t required to do anything and not to worry about it. They would have to pay the impound fees to get it out.

    I messaged my cousin on Facebook (she didn’t have a cell phone and it was hard to call the shelter). She told me he had taken the chance to drive the car to help a friend, and got caught (yeah, right). I told her I was not happy about what happened and it was up to them to deal with it. She promised she would. I had my doubts, because I knew they didn’t have any money to pay impound fees, unless they hit up her dad again.

    Later, I got a registered letter from a salvage company (I was out taking my walk and the mailman tracked me down to give it to me) asking what I wanted done with the car. I called them while still walking and told them to do whatever the hell they wanted with it; it wasn’t my problem anymore, and that obviously if they were involved, that Cousin had essentially abandoned it.

    My cousin and her husband are kind of persona non grata with the family right now. My mother said she and Dad were glad to help me because I was trying, but she doesn’t want to help Cousin anymore because they just take and take and misuse everything they are given. I think they’re out of the shelter now (it had a program you had to go through) and in a place of their own. I hoped the program had helped them, but I doubt it because later still, her husband stole a bunch of stuff from her dad. No one wants to be around them anymore.