‘She is sneaky and double-dealing’: My son died in a car accident — his half-sister looted his home, and brazenly gave away many of his belongings
I would love your advice. My eldest son died in a car accident in 2020. He leaves behind two young teens (they have different mothers). His estate has never gone through probate and he did not have a will. My son owned a small house in a small town near a hugely popular fishing reservoir; there are many vacation rentals in town, always booked up year round.
His father and I have been divorced for 35-plus years, but have remained friendly and in touch. However, his father has married several times since, and has children with a few of his other ex-wives. One of my son’s half-sisters has him completely wrapped around her finger. She is outwardly friendly, but she is sneaky and double-dealing. My son’s half-sister entered his home on multiple occasions and has taken what she wants, and has brazenly given away some of his belongings. My son’s property belongs to his two children. I asked my son’s father to set up a trust for these grandchildren and place our son’s property in it, but he is resistant. Meanwhile, our son’s home just sits where it is, untouched.‘We’ve held fundraisers for my grandchildren‘ Additionally, we held fundraisers for my grandchildren. Thus far we’ve collected about $15,000 toward their future; the fundraiser I held raised $4,000, which was split between the two kids’ 529 accounts. His half-sister was in charge of a fundraiser that raised $10,000 a year ago, and she still has not deposited that money into their accounts. It has come to my attention that this same half-sister is adamant that I “stay out of their business,” per yet another half-sister. They take and use what they want for themselves, while my grandchildren get nothing. I would like to go ahead and set up a trust for them myself, even if I have to publicly shame the half-siblings into it. The two mothers of my grandchildren — my son’s former partners — would like to turn the home into a vacation rental that will draw an income for their children’s trust account and eventually fund their college educations, as well as be a place they can visit anytime when they want to remember their late dad. Is a grandparent able to set up a trust like this and force probate? I was told it was out of our hands — by my son’s dad — but I am not willing to let this go. I believe my son, who lived in Wyoming, would want his children taken care of, not his greedy half-sister and her friends. Please advise. Thank you very much. A Grieving and Angry GrandmaDear Grandma, I’m sorry your son died so suddenly and tragically. This traumatic experience has been exacerbated by the lack of due diligence related to your late son’s estate. What you have described is not so uncommon. Family members sometimes do terrible things when a person dies, including taking possessions from their home. In Wyoming, your son’s children inherit everything, assuming he was not married at the time of his death. Your son’s estate should be your primary focus, and setting up trust funds for his children — while generous and forward-thinking — should take a backseat to settling his estate and ensuring that his heirs receive their inheritance without any further interference. This half-sibling has overstepped her mark, and likely broken the law by removing items from the house. In Wyoming, probate — the legal process for distributing assets to the deceased’s heirs — is necessary for an estate valued at more than $200,000, less liens and encumbrances, if the estate is held in the sole name of the deceased person. Otherwise, the estate may be distributed via an out-of-court affidavit filed with the county clerk, transferring the title to your son’s heirs.
“All beneficiaries are entitled to the estate being distributed to the deceased’s heirs in a timely fashion, without family members helping themselves to items.”
“The process will take at least three months. It will also cost at least $4,500 in court costs, advertising costs, and attorney fees. If the personal representative is paid, then their fee will be at least $4,000 as well,” according to the Harton Law Firm in Rock Springs, Wyo. “The estate assets will have to be inventoried, and then appraised. The creditors will have to be paid.” All beneficiaries are entitled to the estate being distributed to the deceased’s heirs in a timely fashion, without family members helping themselves to items. File a petition with the probate court to appoint yourself or a trusted family member to be administrator of the estate, often referred to as a “personal representative” in Wyoming. Alternatively, the court will appoint one. “If the decedent had died without a will, the court would order distribution of the estate to the heirs according to the default rules provided by Wyoming law,” according to Cloud Peak Law Group. “Typically, the spouse and children will receive a majority of an intestate estate, but other relatives may be selected as heirs by the court depending on the situation.” In most states, the probate court will appoint a property guardian or custodian for minors who inherit property. The children will inherit the estate when they come of age, unless otherwise specified in a living trust or will. In Wyoming, the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act allows a custodian to manage the estate without being subject to court-supervised conservatorship. I’ve had many letters from people in similar situations. One brother, for instance, stole $110,000 by altering his mother’s will. Another woman said her grandmother and uncle destroyed her grandfather’s will. Sometimes people just take what they want and get away with it because flabbergasted family members do nothing. The lesson? Don’t get dragged into the family drama. Hire an estate attorney in Wyoming, and follow the letter of the law. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns. The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually. More from Quentin Fottrell: • I live with my girlfriend, 59, who owns several homes and has saved $3 million. I pay utilities and cable, and do lots of repairs. Is that enough?• ‘Until now, I’ve been waiting tables’: I’m 32, and just started a new job in a factory. I have a 401(k) and an emergency fund. What can I do to retire at 55?• ‘He is the most computer-illiterate person I know’: I was my husband’s research analyst, caregiver, cook and housekeeper. Now he wants a divorce after 38 years.• My daughter, 29, will inherit a ‘substantial sum’ from her late grandfather. But my husband maintains a tight grip on her trust.