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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Evil Stepmother, Bad Estate Planning, Or Both?

Are Your Parents' Estates in Order? 

A Michigan resident recently wrote into MarketWatch’s money-based advice column seeking guidance about what to do when you think your stepmother is stealing money or other assets from your late father’s estate that you believe rightfully belong to you. Sadly, it’s a tricky question with no great answer.

The questioner wondered whether she has a fighting chance to take possession of her late father’s property. She doesn’t know if her father made a will, but she recently found out he left a house in her name. A house her stepmother has yet to mention exists.

In his answer, the Moneyist reminds the daughter any fight she has with her stepmother over her father’s estate is legal, not personal. One of them is not going to out-smart the other, or get away with something they shouldn’t. The law will prevail.

This is important lesson for all of us to keep in mind. So many times estate planning and estate administration become overly emotional. Grief, anger, and fear spill over and drown out our inner voice of reason. When this happens, we encourage our clients to lean on us. Blame us. Hide behind us. Let us be the scapegoat. Our job is to fight your battle in the legal realm so you can keep your family and your sanity intact after the dust has settled.   

The Moneyist also points out that wills are public records. Even if the stepmother is trying to be sneaky, she, or whoever her late husband appointed as his personal representative, is legally required to file his will with the courts. If a will exists, the daughter can get a copy of it from the court.

If no will exists, the court will also be getting involved. People who die without an estate plan in place — aka intestate —  have their property distributed by the government according to certain statutory guidelines. Michigan’s rules for intestacy would award the daughter and her siblings half of whatever is left over after the stepmother takes a $100,000 share.  

All this being said, it is important to consider what the real underlying issue is in this case. Is the stepmother behaving badly? Or did the father do a poor job with his estate planning? The answer might be both. Family members shouldn’t hide estate planning documents from one another, but adult children should know if their parent has an estate plan.

Contact an Estate Planning Attorney

Discussing your estate plan isn’t fun, but it can prevent a situation like this from occurring after you have passed away. Contact us today to start planning your estate.

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