Mother’s legacy is estrangement, and some cash

Dear Amy: In my opinion, my husband taught my children to disrespect me.

He has been gone since 2004, and the situation is getting worse year by year.

Two of my children have not talked to me for 11 years, and took my grandchildren away from me. I have two more children who are nice to me for maybe a year, and then they get angry and explode and say horrible things. Then after a couple of years they come back as if nothing has happened.

I tried to be a good wife and mother. Evidently, I messed up somewhere along the way.

How do I fix my will? Do I leave out the two children who have not talked to me for 11 years? Do I just leave everything to all of them?

I don’t mean to punish them, but I don’t think they deserve a gift, nor do I think they would even want or accept it.

I have tried to get help from my pastor, counselor and lawyer. They don’t seem to have any suggestions. With your experience, what would you suggest?

— Mistreated Mom

Dear Mistreated: You have solicited opinions far and wide, and my instinct is that you either aren’t listening, or are perhaps discounting opinions about this if they don’t jibe with what you really want to do.

It would be unethical for any of these advisers to try to guide you toward specific causes (for the pastor to guide you toward donating to the church, for instance), and so I assume that these professionals are basically advising you to follow your own heart and to do whatever you want to do. It’s your money. You get to spend it however you want, including designating a bequest. One idea is for you to set up a trust to benefit your grandchildren’s educations.

Otherwise, my strong suggestion is that you should find a worthy local cause (or causes) you can support. Bequeathing money to support organizations reflecting your own values might help to resolve your distress.

I also notice a pattern of people leaving you for no known reason. You should take a solid and honest look at your own behavior. You should admit and accept responsibility for any mistakes you have made along the way. You may never reconcile with your children (you don’t seem to want to), but you should definitely reconcile with yourself.

Dear Amy: I am a 34-year-old man. I have been dating my 31-year-old girlfriend on and off for 10 years. We have been seriously committed for the past four years.

I am frequently asked, "Why haven’t you asked her to marry you yet?!"

She is a recovering alcoholic.

Three years ago, she was fired from her job for drinking and was often caught hiding it and lying about how much she drank.

After a two-week stint with inpatient rehab, 12-step meetings and counseling, we are in a much healthier and happier place.

Life is not without its struggles and setbacks.

All things considered, I know this is the person I love and want to be with. I’m just not comfortable yet with getting married after the struggles that we have been through.

The house and bills are in my name, so I’m not concerned from a financial standpoint.

I don’t mind taking on the burden of "the guy who can’t commit" when acquaintances ask why we aren’t married yet, but what would you recommend I say to these people who don’t know the whole story?

— Non-Committer

Dear Non-Committer: Being asked a deeply personal question doesn’t mean that you need to answer it. At all. You could respond honestly and perhaps also send a message about your boundaries, simply by saying: "That’s a very personal question, don’t you think?" If people press, you can say, "We’re both making choices that are best for us right now. It’s really that simple."

Dear Amy: "Proudly Named" wanted her former sister-in-law to drop her married name after her husband had dumped her. To do this, she would have to legally change her name, IDs and many other forms of personal identity.

Let her keep the name as the price of marriage admission and hassle.

What if she refused to change her name in the beginning of the marriage? Then we would be having a different conversation.

— Dan

Dear Dan: I’ve never been tempted to take another person’s surname, but many women (including my mother) have made this choice. In Western culture, surnaming seems to be inherently patriarchal.