The Richmond Register

March 10, 2013

The case of the hungry father-in-law

You be the judge

By Jack Strauss
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — While poverty may not be a disgrace, that’s about the best thing Unis could say about it. With six children and a sickly husband to support, the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe had nothing on her. Then, to add to her woes, her hungry and apparently destitute father-in-law became another mouth to feed. He stopped by for an alleged weekend and stayed for three years until he died.

As it turned out, however, Unis’ father-in-law wasn’t quite as destitute as he claimed. After his death, it was discovered that he left a wad of cash in a bank and his greedy children quickly decided to divide it up amongst themselves without any regard to Unis. Consequently, she filed a claim against her father-in-law’s estate for having fed and taken care of her father-in-law for three years.

“No! She’s entitled to nothing.” responded her father-in-law’s children in chorus. “Anybody knows that a person can’t be paid for doing something for a close relative and Unis was as close a relative as one can be.”

“I was no relative”, responded Unis, “not even a distant one. They were the ones who were the distant relatives. They stayed as far away from their father as they could!”

IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE, would you permit Unis to be repaid for taking care of and feeding her father-in-law for three years?

THIS IS HOW THE COURT RULED: Yes! The judge ruled that while there is a presumption that services performed by close relatives are performed free of charge, there is no legal or moral obligation for a daughter-in-law to support and take care of her father-in-law.

(Based upon a 1924 South Carolina Supreme Court Decision.)

Jack Strauss, a retired New York City trial attorney who now resides in Berea, wrote a syndicated column for 36 years called, “What’s the Law?” It appeared in papers coast to coast, including the Pittsburgh Press, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Hartford Times, the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Daily News, among many others. It appears here with his permission.