My father recently passed away from lung cancer that had spread to his brain. Dad was diagnosed in 2014 and I was living in another state at the time. Dad asked me (not my brother) to move back home to help care for him and I did. I gave up everything—my home, my livelihood—when I moved two states back home. Dad had surgery to remove half his lung to try to defeat the cancer. In February 2015, he had chemotherapy and it put him in the hospital for three weeks and almost killed him.
While dad was in the hospital, he had his girlfriend call a lawyer and one came to see him along with an assistant. He made his will out while in the hospital when he was in the progressive care unit and he had just gotten out of the intensive care unit from kidney failure. He even flat-lined. Dad’s cancer returned and was found in his brain in July and he had brain surgery to remove the tumor. My daddy was never the same. In October we found that dad had six brain tumors and he passed seven weeks later.
‘I love my brother, but he is a thief and a drug addict, and I don’t trust him one bit! Dad asked me (not him) to move back home to help care for him and I did. I gave up everything—my home, my livelihood—to do just that.’
The week dad died dad’s his girlfriend got his will and we read it. Her son is the executor of the estate and she is co-executor. My dad had a roommate that moved out before he died, but when he was there, he wanted to make sure he had a place to stay. So, he gave him “living rights.” Now, in the will, this man can do whatever he wants to with my dad’s house (rent it, move in) and there is nothing we can do about it. Dad did not intend for that. When he left, my dad told him that he wasn’t welcome back. Dad did not return and was not able to change his will.
My dad left his girlfriend his Chevy truck and bass tracker, all his personal belongings inside and outside of the house and $10,000. His son gets the little truck, small boat, $10,000 and whatever is left in the bank after everything is settled. My brother’s son who is 12 gets dad’s house and land when he turns 18 years old. He gets all of his guns, coin collection, and stamp collection. My brother can’t keep the guns for his son because he is a felon and his ex-wife can’t wait to get her hands on my dad’s stuff! My son wasn’t even mentioned in the will.
All my brother and I get is $10,000 a piece and my brother got his life insurance policy already and kept it. Dad gave his $10,000 four-by-four truck to a friend and two of his guns to another friend. This is in probate now and is expected to be settled this summer.
I love my brother, but he is a thief and a drug addict, and I don’t trust him one bit! He wasn’t around when dad was in the hospital when he had half his lung removed and only came to see him one time when the chemo almost killed him. My brother was in jail most of the time while dad was sick and finally came to see and live with him the last ten weeks of his life. He stole from our dad when he was alive and after he died. Now, he is gone and I’m still here watching my dad’s truck be driven every day and there is nothing I can do about it.
Or is there?
Son in South Carolina
Firstly, I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your father, especially after such a long and difficult illness. Everyone got something: Your father’s gun collection, stamp collection, house and possessions, and all manner of trinkets went to everyone else, and all you got was $10,000 and not much thanks either in life or in your father’s will for taking care of him all that time. Life isn’t fair. Sometimes, it hurts and sometimes it hurts bad.
Life isn’t fair. Sometimes, it hurts and sometimes it hurts bad. That does not mean that you are entitled to anything more than $10,000.
That does not mean that you are entitled to anything more than $10,000. Do I think your father could have or should have shown you more appreciation in his will? Sure. That would have been nice. (Although $10,000 is not a small amount of money.) It does not mean he did not love you. People are complicated. Maybe he thought that you did not need it as much as his grandson or his girlfriend. And, perhaps, he had made up with is former roommate and decided not to change his will and make him a “life tenant” or life estate (I believe that’s what you meant by “living rights.”)
And, yes, it’s possible that the lawyer who visited your father in the hospital was not an expert in estate law and overlooked something. It’s certainly worth checking into. It’s also possible that your father may not have been of sound mind. Again, you may consult with his doctors. Still, a fair amount of time passed between your father’s death and the signing of the will, and it’s not like he left everything to his girlfriend at the 11th hour. The Moneyist has seen quite a few letters like that in recent months.
He left his house to his grandson. It’s unlikely his 12-year-old grandson pressured him into that. His son? Maybe. But undue influence and a request to be remembered in a will are hard to prove. Given all these moving parts, this would be an expensive case to take. “It looks like a law school exam,” says Michael Howell, an estate planning attorney in Hilton Head Island, S.C. “There’s so much going on here. The burden of proof is on you and you will end up with a bunch of lawyers.” To be clear, that’s a lawyer saying you should probably not call a lawyer (or lawyers).
You have been through a lot. Take some time out. Process what happened. Rest assured that you did the right thing. You showed up for your dad. He probably appreciated it more than you know.
Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).
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(This column was republished on Oct. 31, 2018.)
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