Author Topic: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?  (Read 6299 times)

fallstoclimb

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Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« on: March 30, 2015, 01:26:41 PM »
Changing some details because it feels awful to disclose all of this family drama on the internet.

My cousin passed away this winter and left behind a young child.  His retirement beneficiary was originally his ex-wife, but when he left her and then later began dating/ living with someone else, he changed it to New Girlfriend.  This may seem irresponsible given that he has a child with Ex Wife but there were legitimate reasons for him to protect his money from her. 

He had an amiable breakup with New Girlfriend in the fall, and then passed suddenly this winter.  He had filed paperwork to switch his beneficiary from New Girlfriend back to Ex Wife, but it arrived the day after he died.  I'm not clear on all the details here but apparently the new paperwork isn't being honored.  His brother is trying to manage his estate and learned from the lawyer his entire retirement fund was just deposited into New Girlfriend's account.  There was enough money that if invested now, it could be a game changer for my cousin's child - enough to fully fund college, or buy a house, or retire on if invested for long enough.

Brother reached out to New Girlfriend but she refuses to talk because she is "devastated."  I'm appalled and surprised that she feels it is appropriate for her to claim the money.  I've never received an inheritance but I assume you have to meet with a lawyer or fill out forms or something prior to actually receiving the money -- so we all believe she intends to keep it, since Brother or Ex Wife would have been pulled into the loop prior to it being deposited otherwise.  I met New Girlfriend many times and I am shocked but also this doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility. 

So I guess his child isn't getting any of the money he left, which is awful. I just keep thinking about the fact that he filed the paperwork for the beneficiary change.  Can you not bring that to court and use it to prove his intent changed?  Are there any options here?  No one has reached out to New Girlfriend beyond Brother trying to contact her.  Lawyer isn't hopeful.  I am fighting the urge to inundate her with anonymous letters.  He wanted his little girl taken care of. 

This probably isn't really my fight to fight but it is breaking my heart.

MrsPete

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2015, 02:25:30 PM »
What a mess.

If he had already filed the paperwork, but he just hadn't received his copies, I suspect you have a chance of getting the money for the child -- he had to have signed the paperwork just days before his death -- but it will probably require going to court, which is a waste of his estate's money. Still, I think court is the only avenue available to the family.   

Of course, it's possible that New Girlfriend has every intention of investing it for the child and saving it for a college education or whatever.  I mean, in the time she dated Cousin, she may've come to care for the child and her intentions may match your own.  However, I wouldn't want to count on it; it'll be a long time 'til the child is ready to have that money, and too many things can happen between now and then.

And for those of us not involved in this problem (and we should thank God we're not), I see two life lessons:

- If you've been thinking of making official change in your beneficiaries (or whatever else), do it today.  None of us know just how many days are allotted to each of us.  Our children are adults now, and we named them co-beneficiaries to EVERYTHING last summer; I feel good knowing it's done. 

- Don't put money into the hands of someone who isn't a legal relative (or, in this case, isn't legally related to the child you'd want to have the money).  A number of people on this board are fairly strongly against marriage, but marriage is about legal protection as much as romantic love. 


CheapskateWife

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2015, 02:28:28 PM »
Oh god, this is heartbreaking.

I'm no lawyer, but if it were me, I would make a copy of the beneficiary change document, and send it over to the ex-GF with a heartfelt letter.  Be sure to acknowlege HER pain, because despite the fact that the daughter exists and needs to be provided for, the GF has legitimate feelings to deal with as well. 

It is possible, that cousin and GF had financial entanglements that still needed to be addressed when he passed, and the family may need to recognize that the deceased had parrallel lanes of responsibility, not only to daughter but to a woman he was making a life/making promises to.  A decent woman will respond appropriately.

Daleth

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2015, 02:30:28 PM »
I agree with Mrs. Pete, but would add one more recommendation: if you have kids and are not yet FI, you MUST get life insurance to help those kids in the event you die.

Edited to add, Cheapskatewife's suggestion is wise indeed.

fallstoclimb

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2015, 02:38:27 PM »
What's extra heartbreaking is this was a suicide.  If MrsPete is right about the timing that means he was trying to make plans and put his affairs in order and just didn't quite do it early enough.  I can't even think about that too much because it's just too sad.

It does occur to me this actually may be life insurance rather than retirement money - it was told to me secondhand.  We all thought his retirement account was drained from Ex Wife.

Fighting over an inheritance feels so petty but anyone decent would want his little girl to have it.  That's clearly what he wanted.  It is killing me he wasn't smart enough to change it to Brother and keep it there when he got divorced, because Brother would look out for his girl. 

nobody123

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2015, 02:45:48 PM »
Tough situation.  A quick Google search shows that the beneficiary form is king.  WSJ had an example where an ex-wife who had waived rights to the money in a divorce settlement still got the money because the account owner hadn't changed the paperwork to name another beneficiary, leaving the kid high and dry.

It looks like appealing to the new GF's sense of decency and hoping for the best is about all you can do.  You might need to offer to compensate the GF for the tax consequences of transferring the money back to the child.

MrsPete

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2015, 02:45:59 PM »
if you have kids and are not yet FI, you MUST get life insurance to help those kids in the event you die.
Yes, very good point. 
What's extra heartbreaking is this was a suicide . . . Fighting over an inheritance feels so petty but anyone decent would want his little girl to have it.
Wow, I didn't even think about suicide.  That is genuinely tragic. 

Fighting over an inheritance to line your own pockets IS petty; fighting over an inheritance to provide for a child who is now father-less is a whole different ball of wax.  If this were a child I knew and loved, I'd do whatever I could for her. 

partgypsy

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2015, 03:15:23 PM »
If it is a beneficiary form, for retirement, and I think also insurance, that trumps what is in the will, unfortunately. If he signed something and it was en-route when he died, I would hope that they would honor the most recent signed document. If he hadn't gotten around to signing it, then legally may not be able to do anything : (

If the first is true, get a lawyer. If the 2nd is true, the only thing, is to write a letter to her explaining that this child is fatherless, and whoever was named as beneficiary, was with the intent of caring for the child and the money ultimately to the child. And hopefully the ex girlfriend unless she has a heart of stone will do the honorable thing.

CheapskateWife

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2015, 03:19:33 PM »
We have two separate life insurance policies, one for the children with his EX, and one for me and our son.  Our hope it that it keeps the lines of inheritance clean, so the intent of his estate is unimpeachable.  I don't want to be in the position the Ex GF in this scenario is in, where it is left to my best judgement what to do because like her, I would be a mess, and be feeling territorial about my own children/life.

TrMama

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2015, 03:37:25 PM »
I think you need a good estate lawyer to work on behalf of the child. Not someone who draws up wills and POAs, but someone who goes to court to fight out these kind of "disinherited" situations. The outcome will also depend on the estate laws for your state/province.

For example, here in BC if you die and do not leave at least a portion of your estate to each of your children (regardless of the child's age), the estate can be contested.

Did this relative have a will?

ltt

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2015, 04:01:04 PM »
So sad.  I think you will eventually need to get a lawyer.  If the money was left to the ex-girlfriend, she has every right to it, even though that was not the intention.  Also, she was "the girlfriend," not a guardian to the child.  She really has no legal responsibility to or for the child, even if she did come to care for the child.  Just heartbreaking, but I would not send any letters to her.  Leave that for a lawyer and fight if you must. 

frugaldrummer

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2015, 05:00:09 PM »
Is it bad of me to admit that I secretly hope my cheating ex-husband has forgotten to remove me as a beneficiary? ;)

Although I would probably feel bad for his new young wife (who was not an affair partner - she came later, poor little thing) and would probably split it with her.

Psychstache

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2015, 05:12:17 PM »
I could be wrong, but I thought most insurance policies have a caveat that they are void in the event of a suicide.

OP, Sorry about the loss and my heart goes out to the child. Best of luck to her. I hope this gets sorted out amicably.

cynthia1848

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2015, 06:05:03 PM »
Depends on the state, but if the paperwork was filled out and filed before his death but just hadn't been processed, the child's lawyer may be able to sue the insurance company and the estate in order to get the beneficiary designation enforced.

Life insurance does not pass through the will.

crispy

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #14 on: March 30, 2015, 07:48:55 PM »
The key is whether he had actually completed and filed the paperwork.  If he had, there may have a case.  If he had just requested the paperwork and not completed it, there is pretty much no chance.  Anything with a direct, named beneficiary is outside of the estate. 

If in the US, the child should be eligible for social security benefits which would provide support until she's eighteen so she is not left without anything.

The_path_less_taken

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #15 on: March 30, 2015, 09:53:49 PM »
I'm sorry for your loss.

Even blood relatives do smarmy things for money...don't ask me how I know this. I'd be retired except for my idiot half sister.

I think at least having the "free" consultation with a FEW lawyers is the way to go. Hopefully you're in the same state because I now know from experience hiring them from across the country is...a pita.

Should you decide to go the letter route, I think key phrases like:

"I know you're a good person, and loved xxx. I know you want to respect his wishes, and not leave his child bereft of not only a parent, but a means of feeding herself. I know that xxx chose you for a reason, and I am grateful that you have a big heart and care for the child...her world/childhood is gone, but at least the money he left will see that she can go to a good college and at least have a chance at some kind of life. Thank you for doing the right thing: it would have meant everything to xxx. I'm so sorry for your loss...we are trying to deal with it daily but it's just impossible to conceive of losing a loved one this way. If you ever need to talk, regardless of the hour, please call us. We care for you, too."

Even people who don't have a heart or a clue respond to being treated as though they do.

Good luck!


HazelStone

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #16 on: March 31, 2015, 11:01:37 AM »
I could be wrong, but I thought most insurance policies have a caveat that they are void in the event of a suicide.

OP, Sorry about the loss and my heart goes out to the child. Best of luck to her. I hope this gets sorted out amicably.

Incontestability clause in most states is 2 years on a policy. If the policy was gotten long enough ago, it shouldn't be an issue.

BlueHouse

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Re: Family Inheritance Drama - any experts on estate law?
« Reply #17 on: March 31, 2015, 11:31:23 AM »
I could be wrong, but I thought most insurance policies have a caveat that they are void in the event of a suicide.

OP, Sorry about the loss and my heart goes out to the child. Best of luck to her. I hope this gets sorted out amicably.

Incontestability clause in most states is 2 years on a policy. If the policy was gotten long enough ago, it shouldn't be an issue.

I believe OP was talking about retirement funds -- not a life insurance policy.  Life Insurance was brought up by another poster.