I am a widower. I still have a strong personal relationship with my late wife's family, and I regard them as part of my own family. They are blood of my blood in the sense that my children are related by blood to both me and them, but if we had not had children, that link would not exist.

My only direct relation to them was by marriage, and with my wife's death, it would seem that that bond no longer exists; at least not formally.

  • Is there any enduring relationship by law or tradition for ex relations by marriage, and what would it be called?
  • Also, what if instead of death, we had been separated by divorce?
  • And what if I were to remarry, would that change my relationship to my first in-laws?
  • 1
    Hello eddie! First, what location does your question pertain to (laws and traditions vary in different countries)? Second, when a person dies, the relationship is not usually considered 'ex' (as it may be with divorce). For example, if a person's wife dies, she does not become their 'ex-wife'. By similar reasoning, your brother-in-law is still your brother-in-law whether or not your wife is alive. The marriage (thus the relationship) has the same legal strength whether or not either, neither, or both parties are alive.
    – Harry V.
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 22:01
  • @vervet I think your comment would qualify as an answer so I encourage you to post it as such when/if you get a chance.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 23:34
  • @vervet ... Thank you for that insight. Concerning your question, I live in the USA / New Jersey ... I am still a little foggy what would happen to my relationship with my in-laws if I were to remarry. I would think the new marriage would supersede the old, relegating my original in-laws to a status similar to "ex" would it not? And if so, what would be the proper way to refer them? How do people refer to their former in-laws after divorce? Especially if there are children; I mean, a man's ex-wife's sister will always be his child's aunt, so a relationship of some kind remains, right?
    – eddie
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 17:25
  • I have found this discussion interesting in my own search for the proper term to refer to my late husbsnd's parents. I get the sense that there may not yet be a correct, simple term ( like ex in laws) to use in social situations. I have recently started dating after being widowed. I am " keeping" my late husband's parents as my family, even though there are no grandchildren to consider. It is just a mouthful and can also open up more questions then I want to address to talk about " my late husbands's parents" in a casual conversation. Let me know if a good term comes up for this complex relati
    – user4797
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 18:27

4 Answers 4


First of all, you are welcome to have whatever kind of a relationship with whomever you wish, and death of the connecting person won't influence that.

As for what the names would be, the relationship would remain the same if via death. Via divorce, typically you would not use such names. If you are re-married, well, feel free to call the family of your first spouse whatever you want. When my grandpa re-married after my grandma died, we called my new grandma usually grandma, and my mother called her her other mother. Even though she has long since died, I still call her children from her first marriage aunt/uncle (Of course, one can never have too many aunts and uncles).

Much of this of course depends on the relationship with your new spouse. But that's beyond the scope of this site;-)


This question has at least four different aspects to it.

  1. Linguistic. Someone who is divorced usually refers to his wife as an ex-wife. Widowers refer to their wives as a late wife.
  2. Legal. If you have concerns about how your legal relationship with your late wife's parents has changed because of your wife's death, please ask someone who is licensed to practice law in New Jersey. That question is outside the scope of this site, as are questions about who might be considered eligible for your children's guardianship due to your marital status.
  3. Genealogy and Family History. The two important questions of genealogy are to determine 1) identity and 2) relationship. This is a contemporary question, so the important genealogical task here is to make a record of your relationship and the history which is taking place now. When a spouse dies, generally the death date is entered in one's genealogy database and / or paper family records. The relationships between all the parties do not change. The children you had together are still your wife's children, and her parents' grandchildren. If you were trying to decipher something that happened in the past, yes, knowing the law of the time and the social customs of the time would be important clues to determining someone's identity or relationship. But for now, if you can't describe your own relationship to your children's grandparents, who else can? Why should you give anyone else outside your circle of grandparents/parent/children the agency to define the meaning of the relationships within your own family's history?

  4. Social. I do understand the confusion about whether you are still the son-in-law of your wife's parents. Perhaps it would make things more clear if you looked at it from the perspective of the other parties. Your children are still the grandchildren of your wife's parents; your wife's parents are still the grandparents of your wife's children.

What happens to that dynamic if you remarry is largely dependent on you.

Blended families choose what their relationships to the extended family members are going to be.

Some grandparents, for instance, give lavish birthday gifts to the grandchildren which are their blood relations, but only give token gifts or no gifts to the grandchildren of the second families. I don't recommend this.

Also, if the relationship between your children and their grandparents is a good one, it would be cruel to cut off that relationship if you married again, and insist that the children of your first marriage had to develop a relationship with your second wife's parents, or have no grandparents at all.

If you are currently addressing your late wife's parents as "mom" and "dad" then imagine how hurt they might be if you insisted that had to change because your wife's death has broken the connection.

I suspect that you have received some criticism from others about how close you are to your late wife's parents. In my experience, children in blended families are much happier when the adults in the family do not discriminate between them, based on their blood relations.

For the linguistic question, I doubt many people would use "ex-wife" or "ex-in-laws" to refer to someone who is deceased. Those terms are generally used in the case of divorce, and in my opinion, it would not be very nice to refer to your late wife's parents as "my ex-in-laws". Your late wife must have had a name, so what's wrong with saying "X's parents" (or, if you happen to marry another woman with the same name, "my first wife / late wife's parents").

If you personally are on good terms with your in-laws, and the three of you want to maintain the relationship for the sake of your children, and your mutual benefit, I don't see why you shouldn't keep up the relationship. The logistics become more complicated if you remarry, but these things can be worked out with compassion and fairness as long as the adults act like adults and communicate with each other.

From a genealogy and family history perspective, as well as the compassionate one, I encourage you to be inclusive rather than exclusive. It's more fun that way.

  • I appreciate your response, but you misunderstand my purpose for asking. I'm not asking for advice on how to behave ... interpersonal relationships are what you make of them no matter what they are called. Some army buddies may consider themselves "brothers", and true brothers may hate each other. But how they think of each other doesn't change what they actually ARE. My hope in posting this question, was that I might connect with an expert who could tell me what the technically correct and proper term is for what my "ex-in-laws" ARE.
    – eddie
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 14:45
  • I suppose my question might be linguistic in nature in the sense it relates to language, but its more than that. Its more about being technically correct. What would a medieval expert on heraldry say? What would Emily Post say? Many people refer to a cousin-once-removed as a "second cousin", because they don't understand the distinction. In a practical sense, there's no harm done; what difference does it make anyway? But to be strictly correct, one should properly say "cousin once removed", if that's what the actually "ARE".
    – eddie
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 14:55
  • It is in this context that I am asking my question: "What is the strictly correct and proper term for one's ex-in-laws?" AND, is it different depending on whether the separation occurs due to death, or divorce? AND does that relationship change with remarriage ... I'm not asking for opinions; I'm asking if anyone knows factually what the strictly correct and proper terms are.
    – eddie
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 15:03

There are so many possible scenarios that all of these answers may have credence. However, in the modern world there is often seen a situation, like my own, where a marriage partner dies, and due to age, that partner's parents are also dead, and there were no children from the marriage. The only surviving relatives of the deceased partner are one brother, who has children, and the daughter of the deceased partner from a previous marriage. No matter what Genealogical charts may show (from an historical point of view), in law or indeed practice I cannot see how there is any remaining relationship to either the deceased's brother, his children, or the daughter of the deceased. From a 'social' point of view, it may be convenient, and possibly desired, to maintain a friendly interaction, but it would be simply that - a friendly interaction. The correct terminology of address would then be 'my late husband's/wife's brother' or 'my late husband's/wife's daughter', nothing more. In the same way that some areas of society would refer to as a very close family friend as 'Uncle' or 'Aunt' so and so, I suppose. It would depend on the individual's wishes. Any remarriage would 'supercede' the previous marriage's relationships.


If you want to emphasize the connection, go through your children. For example your late wife's mother is your children's grandmother. That won't change if you remarry.

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