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families of Suffolk County since 1972

Woman says her brother stole her inheritance

New York residents may know of cases in which one person's death led to a family conflict that no one ever recovered from. One such incident happened when a woman's mother died. Her brother told her that she had been left $10,000 but he still needed to pay bills. Once the bills were paid, he claimed that only $300 was left for her although he had been left a car and the mother's condo.

The sister asked if she could have the car, and the brother agreed. He also gave her a copy of the will. The woman went to the bank to inquire about her mother's accounts and was told that her brother had closed the accounts and they had no record of the final balance.

A few months after the funeral, the woman looked at the will copy with a magnifying glass and saw that the handwritten amount had been altered from $110,000 to $10,000. She remained angry with her brother for years, but she did not take action. Normally, a person has a limited amount of time to challenge a will although that may change if there is evidence of fraud. However, proving fraud becomes more difficult the longer a person waits.

This story illustrates a few points that estate planning attorneys will often discuss with their clients. One is that it is best to keep an ongoing conversation open with loved ones about the estate plan and who is getting what. Another is that people should consider taxes and other expenses when they are planning how their assets will be distributed after they die. Choosing the right executor is also important, and in some cases, someone impartial from outside the family may be better suited for the task.

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