How Can I Find Out What My Beneficiary Rights to My Mother’s Estate Are?

Note: The DearEsq free 'ask a lawyer' site is offered as a free informational service to the public and is not intended as legal advice. Laws vary from state-to-state, and in addition every situation is unique, and relevant facts may not be known. The answer to the question posed below may not apply to in your state or to your situation. For legal advice in your state and your situation you should consult with an attorney in your state who is familiar with the rules and laws in your state.

“My mother passed away 5 yrs. ago. 6 months before she passed, my stepfather and, I assume, her (she was sick with two different types of cancer, and was on a lot of morphine, and tired easily) did a family trust. My mother’s IRA had  beneficiary designations, but it doesn’t look like it’s in her own handwriting. It looks like my sister’s handwriting and my sister didn’t even witness my mother wanting to change her IRA designations, my sister just says my Mom told her that. My mother’s signature is dated a different date than my stepfather’s signature and at the top of the IRA is a totally different date with the word “Update”. My two daughters received my share, $30,000, and because I wasn’t let in on anything, I found this out 3-4 years later. My stepfather gave me $500.00 a month for 12 months, and then separately gave me another small amount all at once. He sold the house and rented an apartment when I finally asked for a copy of the Trust, but he did not give me a a full document.

He said to my aunt, “Give this to Kim, this is the the pages that she would be interested in”, and the pages were different page numbers and had “This is not a Legal Document” across the top.

He never gave me notice when the Trust became irrevocable and has never given me an accounting. He made his daughter, co-Trustee, and then my sister the next co-Trustee, if something were to happen to his daughter.  My sister told me right after my mother passed that there was nothing we could do until our stepfather dies.

He amended the Trust and sent an “Affadavit Death of Trustee” 4 months after my mom’s passing, and he’s named the Sole Successor Trustee of the Family Trust. He gave his daughter 2 shares, while I get 1 share and my sister gets one share. His son passed away, and the document he gave me says that the son gets nothing, so neither does his son, but even so, I thought a deceased sibling ‘s share gets divided up evenly between us 3 girls instead of two shares for his daughter.

My stepfather also just bought a condo and the property’s net value is $129,545, and I was told he paid $200,000 CASH for it. Apparently he did this because he is listed as both the grantor and grantee. Doesn’t my mother’s half of the sale of their house, and his half go into the family Trust? If so, what about the move he made buying a condo for cash, and buying it for approximately $ 70,000 more than what the assessor’s office has recorded as net value. Not only that, but he had a friend of my mother’s sell certain antiques of hers in the friend’s store.

Help me, it took me five years to finally figure out I have beneficiary rights under the Trust, and I want to get out from under it before there’s nothing left.”

This is clearly a complicated situation, and unfortunately there is no simple answer.  If you really want to know what you are legally entitled to, and more importantly whether you have any grounds to change what is happening, you are going to need to have your situation reviewed by a local attorney, preferably one who specializes in estate litigation.

That having been said, you should be aware that in the U.S. (except Louisiana), there is no such thing as forced heirship.  Although there are default heirs (normally starting with your spouse and/or children), it is perfectly possible to write someone out of your estate.  That means that it is possible that your mother wrote you out of hers, either partly or entirely. The twin questions, then, are 1) did she in fact do this, and 2) if she did, was she being unduly influenced to do so?

Both of those are questions of fact, and will require both factual investigation and a knowledge of the applicable law.  Hence, the estate litigator.

As a practical matter, it is often the case that getting a letter form an attorney can get people to respond to you who might otherwise ignore you, so at least you’ll be making some progress.  Good luck.