Stock

The Moneyist: My dad was determined to beg, 'Son, get a lawyer. This lady will take your inheritance away from you! ‘My stepmother stored $ 1 million after he died

I am the only son of parents who divorced when I was 4 years old. My father remarried shortly afterwards, but no longer had any children.

Although he and I have had some conflicts over the years, in the last few decades of his life we ​​have grown closer and had a good relationship. Dad died in 2014. In the years before his death, he told me several times – with great joy – that I would inherit a considerable amount of money.

The last time he said this in the presence of my wife and stepmother. He said I was getting a million dollars and I shouldn't worry about my stepmother.

She didn't say a word, but she clearly disagreed. I'm sure Dad was aware of this, but he felt like he had things under control at the family foundation he was running.

I was able to visit papa a few weeks before he died. His leg had been amputated and he knew he would probably be leaving soon, but he was still in a good mood.

At this point Dad had suddenly changed and was upset. My father pleaded desperately, “Son, get a lawyer. This woman will take your inheritance away from you! ”My stepmother was around then and I'm sure she heard every word.

I tried to calm Dad down, briefly thinking that maybe he might be raving about it. Time was running out and I had to go.

He died a few weeks later without my being able to speak to him again.

"Papa was right"

At some point I would find out that Dad was right. At the trust, he had somehow referred to his wife as a "settler," which my attorney told me meant that after his death she would have complete control of the trust. She just rewritten it to suit her taste, which meant I couldn't think of a penny. I believe that Daddy's sudden change in mood and warning to me was due to my stepmother telling him about the change.

Unfortunately, I did not follow my father's advice and preferred the gentle touch. I just couldn't believe that my stepmother would betray my father's plans and cut me off without provocation. And my relationship with her was never warm, but very friendly – at least I thought. After Dad died, I got nothing but a small IRA and a small $ 6,000 insurance policy.

I checked with the county clerk to find a copy of Dad's will. It left everything to the trust. I went out of my way to keep the relationships cordial by calling my stepmother every Sunday night. Finally, after six years of naively pretending that things were what I had hoped they would be, my stepmother began to mention how much money she was spending on our phone calls.

She took world-class airplane flights, took her family (siblings and nieces and nephews) on vacation, and established $ 10,000 scholarships at the local community college for nurses and firefighters. My stepmother said her lawyer would change "her" confidence. (I now believe her attorney told her to keep her mother until the statute of limitations on fraud – six years in Oregon – was up.)

"She clearly provoked me"

She clearly provoked me, and I ended up asking her directly if I was going to inherit something. She said: “Yes, but not much” and that she would leave a lot to “her” family. I finally hired a lawyer. He suggested that they ask for a copy of the trust as it had been at the end of Dad's life, to see if it was true that he intended me to inherit a lot of money.

When I did that, she told me it was none of my business and that she could do whatever she wanted with the money. That was exactly what I feared. I felt like the worst kind of fool. I threatened to sue my stepmother for access to the trust documents, and eventually her attorney sent her lawyer an affidavit that my stepmother was a "settler" of the trust fund.

My own lawyer told me that if it were true, she would not be responsible for complying with my father's wishes, and I had no case. He also said it was extremely unlikely that her attorney would lie in the affidavit, as it would mean professional suicide if found out.

If I continued my case, I would likely lose and pay their legal and legal fees. My lawyer also suggested I write her a conciliatory email as I might inherit something (possibly based on an unofficial tip her lawyer gave him).

I wrote the email and haven't heard from it or tried to contact it since then. It would be very difficult for me to speak politely to her now.

The stepson

Dear stepson,

I am sorry that you went through this and that you lost an inheritance that your late father intended for you. He may not have fully understood his and his wife's role in setting up a trust and made several serious mistakes – including effectively handing the trust over to your stepmother who, as your father discovered late in the day, had no intention of his wishes to be fulfilled. A trustee manages a trust and executes the terms of the trust. But your stepmother was in a much more central – and powerful – position.

"What is strange about these facts is that the father apparently bequeathed his fortune to a trust whose 'settler' was the stepmother," says Neil V. Carbone, Trusts and Estates partner at Farrell Fritz PC. “The settlor of a trust is the person who sets it up and, in most cases, is also the person who finances it. It should be checked in the specific trust agreement whether the father was also the trustor of the trust and whether there were any restrictions or restrictions on the stepmother's authority to change the trust after the father's death. "

Believing the best in people is not an inheritance plan. People are known to be unpredictable, especially not after a death and when large sums of money are involved. In fact, people can be just as moody and untrustworthy when it comes to small sums of money. Not only are they motivated by greed, but also by hidden resentments and their own belief that they are entitled to the entire kit and Kaboodle.

Missed opportunities to take action

It is important to act decisively and early on. "There seem to be missed opportunities to take action," says Carbone. "When the father first discussed the son's likely inheritance during his lifetime – particularly when the son found that his stepmother 'clearly disagreed' – the son could have suggested that they all review the documents and plan together to ensure that it was what the father wanted and would be carried out as written. "

"Then when the father was in the hospital begging the son to find a lawyer, the son could have arranged for the father's lawyer to meet with the father alone, even if the meeting should have been in the hospital," he added . “If the father feared that the stepmother would not manage the trust according to his wishes, he could have forged a new plan. It is really unfortunate that several weeks passed without this happening. "

Yours is a cautionary story. "The son could have received a copy of the trust deed himself (not just an attorney's affidavit) to review his rights and his ability to enforce those rights," says Carbone. “For example, he may have been entitled to keep records of the trustee's actions in managing the trust. He may also have just legal remedies, such as the imposition of 'constructive trust'. "

What can we learn from these unfortunate events? Sometimes these issues are best resolved in a prenuptial agreement, especially when children are involved. Your father was either misguided or betrayed by his wife when he tried to set up a trust company for you. It is possible that he did not feel up to the demands of his second wife and belatedly made her aware of his fear that his wishes after his death would not be kept.

As you point out in your letter, the statute of limitations appears to have expired in your state and the law varies from state to state. Your story can help others in similar situations, and highlights the dangers of estate administration when there is a second marriage. I urge you to get a second opinion from an independent inheritance lawyer. He or she can only repeat what you have already been told, but it will at least clear the matter up once and for all.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical issues related to the coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out Moneyist's private Facebook Group in which we look for answers to life's thorniest money problems. Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Ask your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or take part in the latest Moneyist columns.

The moneyist regrets not being able to answer questions one by one.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• Please help! My brother took out a $ 20,000 student loan on my father's behalf without his consent. My parents refuse to take any action
• "My uncle accessed my father's bank accounts while he was dying": He also took his house keys, truck, wallet and personal papers with him. What can we do?
• I sold my house to move into my husband's apartment. Now he won't even write my name on the certificate. What are my options?
• "I'm a proud, unvaccinated Trump supporter. Two of my siblings haven't spoken to me in a decade. Should I cut them out of my $ 7 million estate?"

Related Articles