Updated: September 29, 2010, 8:55 AM
By Judith Martin
Dear Miss Manners: My father died after a short illness. Almost immediately after the funeral, people started saying, basically, “Gee, I’m sorry your Dad died. By the way, he promised me that I could have (item or property) someday. Can I have it now?”
My mother, siblings and I are frankly flabbergasted that people would do this in the midst of our mourning. (Dad died less than a month ago.)We are also shocked at the sheer number of people who are doing this. One person even tried to bully my mother into giving him something he said he was promised well over a decade ago!
Until now, we have been fixing people with an icy look and a message that nothing is being given away unless my mother decides to do so (delivered in a flat tone.) You would not believe the number of people who come back the next day asking if Mom has had a chance to make her decision yet!
We would like the begging to stop, but we don’t want to escalate the rudeness since many of the people asking for things are her neighbors. The situation is just too raw for us to think about giving away my father’s things.
Can you help us with something to say that will convey the message without confrontation, please?We think that some of these people really don’t realize what they are doing and we don’t want them to feel like idiots, but this situation must stop, if only for my mother’s sake.
Gentle Reader: Why are you flattering these people by characterizing them as idiots who do not realize what they are doing?
It seems to Miss Manners that they know exactly what they are doing: taking advantage of a bereaved family by attempting to cozen them with the smarmy tactic of invoking the wishes of the deceased.
Perhaps your father did offer to give things away, although Miss Manners is suspicious of these claims. His illness was short, and it seems unlikely that he spent it making such promises. If he did, surely you would have known about it.
In addition to the disposition of property he made in his will, you will probably honor any wishes he may have expressed to the family informally. But if you want to do anything beyond that, you—the family—are the best ones to guess what would have pleased him.
However, even Miss Manners can tell you what would go against his wishes. He would not have wished to reward people who harassed his family.
What you should say to them is, “We appreciate your kind wishes. We have his will, and we know his most recent intentions, so if there is anything coming to you, you will hear from us or from his lawyer. Thank you for stopping by.”
The opening and closing sentences here are designed to make these people realize their rudeness. But in a polite way, of course.