Money Dilemmas

Meg Green: Niece wants a share of late mother’s estate

 

Special to The Miami Herald

The dilemma: I had been caretaker of my mother for the many years she was alone after my father died. I have two brothers, an older one who was very helpful and the younger one who has been estranged from my parents since we were in our 30s.

Years ago, I helped my mother sell her house and invest the funds into some annuities and CDs to help pay for her lifestyle in a really nice care facility. Recently my mother passed away at age 87, and I feel good about how I was able to give her love and comfort and support in her elder years. The funeral was prepaid, and although she had a simple will leaving me in charge, I decided to split whatever money we had left among myself and two brothers. I thought that was fair.

Now my younger brother’s daughter has stepped in to demand her share of the inheritance. (She hasn’t been in my mother’s life very much, except when it was convenient for her.) I suggested that my brother, her father, share his with her, but she was after much more. She’s questioning where my mother’s jewelry went and all her furniture (it’s been gone for 7 years) and her car … also not around for all these years.

She’s making a big stink, causing some family members to question my actions, and they’re getting involved in the fight … except my older brother.

Meg, my mother gave me, her only daughter, her wedding band and some other pieces of jewelry when she went into the facility. She really didn’t have much. She gave her old car to my son, who was the best grandson, and furniture and dishes to my older brother’s kids. They were there and it gave her pleasure. This niece has been nowhere in sight. No calls or letters; just an occasional visit on her way to somewhere or on her way back.

Do I owe this girl anything? Is it my job? My mother never once asked me to give anything to her, as she’s been distant all these years. What is the protocol? I need to get through this with as much of the family intact as possible.

Meg’s solution: First of all, my condolences on your mother’s passing. It’s tough to lose a mother. And good job taking care of her. The name of the game is love, comfort and security when one gets older, and it sounds like your mother had all three.

I’m sorry there wasn’t more of a discussion with her attorney when doing her will so that her wishes were spelled out better. That’s always the best protection for the personal representative. But since she left the decisions to you, then I believe you had every right to decide what was fair. Kudos for cutting in your estranged brother. That was big of you. As to his child, it’s not your job to take care of her. Let her father be in charge of how or if he wants to include her in his part of the inheritance.

This is not a time to be bullied, and that’s just what your niece is trying to do. I would show her a copy of the will and tell her that legally, everything was done according to your mother’s wishes. Any gifts that were given before she passed was entirely her decision, not yours, and she can take it up with her Grandma when and if she meets up with her again.

Tell her it’s too bad she didn’t try to forge a relationship with Grandma while she was here and when it would have made a big difference to them both. Fight the bullying with guilt, although I doubt she will react with any shame. If you want to offer a small memento of your Mother’s to her to have and to hold, like a scarf or a personal trinket, do so, but it will surely go over like a lead balloon. She wants value, not sentiment.

As to the family getting involved, perhaps your mother’s lawyer can be available to shut down their concerns easier than you can. Call and ask him if he could help you to put this issue to rest. You have every right to do as you choose, since legally your mother assigned you that job.ext of question here.

Got a dilemma? Email askmeg@meggreen.com. Meg Green, CFP, is a wealth manager with offices in Aventura. Her Money Dilemmas column runs monthly in The Miami Herald.

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