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The Moneyist: My spouse discovered a half-brother by Ancestry.com. Are we morally or ethically obliged to share your father's property?

Dear Moneyist,

A few years ago, my wife and I had our DNA tested by Ancestry.com on a whim. Last week we were contacted by a half-brother my wife never knew she had. In fact, I don't think her father had any idea that he had a child. Without the genetic match, it is extremely doubtful whether the relationship would ever have come to light. (As for the timeline and location, it appears he had a "fling" edge of state shortly before his deployment in World War II. It seems like the mother never had any idea who the father was.)

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"My wife's father died in 2008, leaving a small legacy in a will listing his known descendants."

My wife's father died in 2008, leaving a small inheritance in a will listing his known descendants. My wife also had a brother who died in 2016 just months before he was about to retire, leaving a sizable 401 (k) as well as a home. The death of her brother's wife preceded him several years and he had no offspring and left no will. His estate has been divided among his known siblings under the laws of our Maryland state. Both goods have long since been distributed and closed.

The newly discovered half-brother only asked for information about his family genetic history. The whole family seemed really excited to finally find information about his birth father after years of searching with no real clues.

My question is: Do the descendants have a legal claim to the estate of their father or half-brother? A more difficult question is whether the siblings have a moral or ethical responsibility to share the proceeds of the goods with the half-brother and his family.

I appreciate any advice you can give.

Dan

The money is:My sister became my late father's power of attorney, took out a reverse mortgage on his house, and drained his equity. What can I do?

Dear Dan,

Oprah bought her long-lost half-sister a house, but that doesn't mean you have to.

The Maryland statute of limitations for wills is six months. If there was no will and your wife's half-brother decided to claim the property within that time frame, he would have a case of biological legal inheritance. But the boat has sailed.

Do you have a moral or ethical obligation to share the proceeds of your father-in-law's estate with this man? The ethics of this situation is entirely subjective. For me it would depend on how much money I inherited, on the financial situation of my long-lost brother and also on my own financial situation. I might also be afraid of offending him by offering him money if he had everything he needed in life. There are so many variables that would influence my decision.

The money is: "I was planning to buy new tires for the winter": I did not receive a stimulus check because I owe child support back. Will I get one this time?

Regarding the moral issue, your father-in-law was unaware of his son when he died and therefore did not specifically exclude him from his will. While this may have created a legal and moral gray area if you discovered yourself in the six months following the death of your wife's father, I don't think you have a moral obligation to give him anything if we use the law as a guide for what is generally considered right or wrong by social norms.

There may be other ways to give back because you believe it is right for you and because it would help your brother-in-law feel part of the family and be welcomed in a way that feels meaningful. If there was a family vacation home that your brother-in-law would like, you could offer it to him, for example, or even leave it to all of the biological grandchildren. Or maybe there are some valuable possessions that he would like to own.

Never underestimate the power of small acts of kindness. You can make people feel valued, loved, cherished, and given that he was accidentally thrown into the family wilderness for so many years, such a gesture from you and your wife can lead to him becoming too seen feels.

The money is:My wife and I have 3 children. I also have 3 children from a previous marriage. How should we share our house among these 6 children?

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist at qfottrell@marketwatch.com with any financial or ethical questions. By emailing your questions, you consent to them being published anonymously on MarketWatch.

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