Siblings Fight Over Dead Father's Medals

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My dad died on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 -- a day before Veterans' Day. He fought in the Pacific Theater in World War II. He was proud of his service and in a strange way, it was fitting he died on that weekend.

Anyway, my sisters and I had to go through a large box with his things and his medals. He specifically told my mom that I was supposed to get his medals and she told us that when we got the box.

A couple of nights later, my sisters divided up the medals when I was in the other room. When I asked about the medals, I was ignored.

One of my sisters left for Louisiana the next day. I then e-mailed my sisters asking about the medals. My sister in Louisiana apologized and said she would send them to me soon.

The next day, she sent several angry emails saying she didn’t know that I was supposed to get them and that I was ungrateful. She said she wanted to give them to Ben, her son. He had an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps. He had four deployments in Iraq and several other places.

My plan was to send Ben the medals, too. Dad was very proud of Ben. My sister then said that she’ll send the medals to me, but I’m not sure if she will. My other sister said I should give them to a historical society.

Neither of my sisters has been interested in Dad’s military or my genealogy research. Any ideas on what I should do? Legally, that is.

Sincerely,
My Medals

Dear Medals,

I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your father. It sounds like he was a great man. This is a tough situation because I don’t think your sisters will return the medals to you. It sounds like they believe the medals belong to them just as much as they do to you. Perhaps your mother could convince them to return the medals.

I’m not a lawyer, but I think legal recourse may be difficult because your father did not include in his will who the medals should go to when he died.

I truly regret this because I have witnessed situations like this one get really ugly. Families have been split up over disputes over the will with people not speaking for years -- if ever again. It would be terrible if this happened to you and your sisters.

I believe you when you say your father intended for you to have the medals. Maybe that can promote some healing for you around this issue knowing that he wanted you to have them.

Sincerely,
Ms. Vicki

***

Veterans,

You might think that your grown children have no interest in your military past. They may have rolled their eyes at your stories of life on the ship or something your sergeant said. They may not have served in the military at all. They may not have even been born when you left the military.

But there is something about how the medals, flags, awards, weapons and uniforms are distributed after the death of a veteran that cause problems like the one above all the time.

Here are some things you can do now to avoid family squabbles later:

Distribute military items now. Your children or grandchildren might like to have some of your military items now. That way, you can talk about why you want them to have the medals, etc., and what they mean to you.

Include military items in your will.  If you have promised certain items to someone, have that included in your will. At the very least, write it down (although that is not necessarily legally binding). Just telling a spouse what you want is not enough to avoid family squabbles.

Don’t ignore daughters. Often, military fathers forget that their daughters might want military memorabilia, too. They might want the item for themselves, their children, or as a piece of family history.

Tell your kids that you love them. Sometimes, squabbles over a will are really just leftover feelings about your relationship with your child. Get some closure now.  Avoid the family problems later. Your legacy is not found in the monetary value of what you leave your children, it is found in the memories your give them.

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Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, is married to an active-duty Soldier and has three sons. She has a Master's of Science in Social Work from the University of Louisville, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and currently works as a therapist with military servicemembers and their families. She provides services for a wide array of concerns such as combat stress, PTSD, couples and marital problems, depression, grief and loss, stress and coping.

Ms. Vicki also writes an advice column "Dear Ms. Vicki" that appears in the Washington Times, the Fort Campbell Courier and the Heidelberg Herald Post. Ms. Vicki also hosts an internet radio show and blogs on her community site with the Washington Times. If you want to ask Ms. Vicki for advice about your military life, please email her at AskMsVicki@military-inc.com.

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