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What Happened to My Inheritance?

Continually I have clients ask me “What happened to my inheritance?” Here are a few answers to that question:

There is a Will, but the assets do not pass under the Will. My client’s mother died last month and, before she died, she showed my client her Will which split everything equally between my client and her sister. My client wanted to know when she was going to get her 50%.

The questions to ask are: What did the mother own at the time of her death, and how was it held? Upon questioning, my client said her mother had a checking account and her sister was “on” the account. That means that, upon the mother’s death, the checking account belonged to her sister. My client also knew that her mother had a $10,000 life insurance policy with her sister as beneficiary. Again, upon the mother’s death, the life insurance policy was paid to her sister. Those were the only assets the mother had, and her sister received them all.  The Will has no say over how these assets passed. My client will not receive anything unless her sister wants to share. And then it would be a gift from her sister and not an inheritance from her mother.

No probate so no Executor. If no assets pass under the Will, the Will does not need to be probated, and no one will be named the Executor. That is because a person does not become an Executor unless the probate court names the person as Executor.

The Will has been revoked. Recently, a client called me because her stepfather had just passed away. The stepfather was married to her mother for 30 years and, during those years, they accumulated wealth. Her mother died more than ten years ago. At the time of her mother’s death, her mother and stepfather had identical Wills, which provided that when the first one died, everything passed to the survivor and then, when the second one died, 50% of the survivor’s estate passed to her children and 50% passed to his children.

That is not what happened. Since her mother passed away, her stepfather remarried. He revoked his prior Will and executed a new Will, excluding his stepchildren.

Written out of the Will. For various reasons, parents write their children out of their Wills. One of my clients called me after her mother’s funeral. She and her mother hadn’t spoken for 30 years, but she heard that her mother left her something in her Will. Yes, her mother left her $1.00! She was furious. She wanted to challenge the Will. However, there is no right for a child to inherit from their parents, so she was out of luck.

Final example. My client wanted to update her estate plan. She had no children, only one stepdaughter she didn’t like. She decided to name her best friend as the beneficiary on each of her assets. Her Will was not updated, since no assets would pass under the Will. She died. Her stepdaughter called me to tell me that, first of all, she was Executor under the Will, and that the Will left everything to her. She was furious when she found out that the Will was not going to be probated, she would not be the Executor, and that the friend inherited 100% of her stepmother’s assets, which totaled over $300,000. She understood that named beneficiaries control over the Will but she thought that the named beneficiaries should be identical to the beneficiaries named in the Will.

Many of these situations seem unfair but in most cases, this is exactly what the deceased planned.

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