How Should My Mother’s Estate Be Divided?

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My mom died recently at 89-years old after a fall. About three years ago she developed severe dementia. She didn’t want to go to a nursing home so I hired a live-in aide and a part-time aide for relief. Mom and I had had a joint checking card and checking account for decades. Most of her money (Social Security, pension, dividends, etc.) would get deposited there. Some of my money would get deposited there, too (e.g. some from rental income.) Even before mom became demented, I used those funds primarily for upkeep of her house, her living expenses and incidentals, medical care co-pays, etc. Before the dementia set in, I took her grocery shopping, clothes shopping, to the hair salon, and doctor once or twice weekly and she used money from the joint account for purchases. If there was something that I couldn’t do at the house on my own (plumbing, electrical work) I’d use the funds in the joint account or credit card. I’d do the landscaping and minor repairs myself. Sometimes there was something that needed to be done (immediate repairs after tornado damage, putting in a whole new floor, etc.) where her funds in the checking weren’t enough so I’d use my funds to help her out. My brother lives about 40 minutes away. He and his wife only visited about monthly. They’d host Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners. But they didn’t spend much time with mom. Didn’t help with house maintenance or helping transport mom. About 30 years ago, mom gave my brother $50,000 to help him get his business started. She told me it was a loan (which was never repaid). He says that she told him that it was part of his inheritance that she gave him early. He implied that he thinks I’m going to cheat him. He demanded that I take all of my money out of the joint checking account. And he said, “I have pretty good idea of how much of that money was mom’s.†I don’t know how he could, she certainly wasn’t capable of talking finances with him over the last three years. And she never talked about it with him before that, as far as I know. I’m really hurt by what he’s saying. He thought that mother was going to give him either the condo, the house or both in the will, or will it to his daughter. He also thought that she would leave him at least half of the cash in her checking and investments. We opened the will and there’s a codicil that she did before she was demented saying that she is leaving all properties and other assets to me. She said that she feels that my brother got his share when he got the $50,000 interest free loan. And she felt that she owed me more because I took care of her and the house for years. She also felt that my brother is financially stable. Well my brother is furious. He got an estate lawyer and was discussing how he can break the will. He wants half of the money from the checking and the house, at least, as his part of the inheritance. He said that the estate lawyer told him that he can have that if we both agree to it. He’s also accused me or manipulating mom so that she left everything to me. He’s demanding that everything I might finally get from the will when it’s probated, I put in my will that all that property and cash goes to him. Then he changed his mind, saying that he doesn’t trust me to will things to him. He wants me to clean and repair the house, at my expense before he gets it. Yet we’ve made no decision as to even try to break the will. He’s moving ahead as if he’s ready to take possession. He’s really angry and hurt and blaming me. I don’t want to this to make my brother’s and my relationship worse (though it has been strained over the years). I don’t want to be ordered around and bullied because of what HE thinks is fair and what HE thinks he deserves. Any suggestions?

First, we are very sorry for the loss of your mother. Unfortunately, hurt feelings over wills and estates are not uncommon, and will contests are some of the nastiest scenes in law. As you are already finding, they can tear families (further) apart. The bottom line for you is that you need to go to a *good* wills and estate litigator (not planner), and get the opinion of someone with expertise not only in this aspect of law, but in your own local area, to review your mother’s will.

The good news is that if the will is well-written and properly executed, and if you get a lawyer with a good reputation, they will be able to convey to your brother’s attorney the futility of your brother’s fighting it.

The other good news is that often an offering of part of something you received under the will to the other person (your brother in this case), with an explanation of “I do feel I understand why mom gave this to me, but I also understand you were expecting to get something too” along with your lawyer’s explanation of why your brother is not actually entitled to anything (so see, you are giving him something out of brotherly love) will often go a long way to throwing oil on troubled waters, and still cost you far less than having to battle it out in court.

Good luck.H