13 Signs of Being Denied a Share of the Estate
It feels awkward to discuss the affairs of the deceased. People tell themselves that time needs to pass and scars need to heal before they will deal with the estate. In most cases, this is true. But in a few cases this can be a big mistake. If unscrupulous people are involved, there might be no estate left to deal with by the time you get to it.
In this article, I will help you pinpoint some of the tell-tale signs that someone is denying you a share of the estate. I will also share some of my experience in resolving this kind of situations. Please keep in mind that this is by no-means an exhaustive list, and you are well advised to consult an experienced estate attorney if you suspect that you are being denied your rightful share of the estate.
Hiding Things – If you are not in possession of the will and the person who has the will is not showing it to you, he or she might be up to something. If the person who is in control of assets of the estate is trying to hide the true extent and value of the assets, that person can be suspected of stealing assets from the estate.
“Speak to My Estate Attorney” – if a person has retained an estate attorney and is telling you to speak to the attorney regarding the estate, ask yourself this: why would he or she not speak to you directly? Maybe that person is hiding something and is afraid that the truth will come out if he or she speaks to you. Or maybe that person feels too guilty to cheat you directly and is more comfortable doing it through the attorney. Either way, you can see how this could indicate that you are being denied your share of the estate.
Saying There is no Will – If someone tells you that there is no will when you know that there was a will, it does not necessarily mean that they are lying – perhaps they are just having difficulty finding it. You can offer your help in finding the will. The likely places to find the will are the deceased person’s house or office. Make sure to search through the safes. The will might also be in the safe deposit box (you will need the court’s permission to open the safe deposit box). The attorney of the deceased might have the will, or at least a copy of the will which may be admissible instead of the original will if he cannot be found, if the attorney will testify that the copy is identical or has the same terms as the original will.
However, if the will is not found and you are sure that there was a will which was favorable to you, I would bet that they are hiding something important.
Dragging Things Out – If the person who has the will is telling you that he or she is not yet ready to show you the will, he or she might be buying time. That person might be secretly stealing the assets of the deceased from the estate – taking tangible property or transferring assets to secret accounts. That person might even be buying time to deal with an unfavorable clause in the will, weighing options such as forgery or destruction of the will.
Not Going to Court – If the entire estates is in a trust, there might not be a need for a probate or administration proceeding. But if there is no trust and the personal representative is not going to court a month or so after the funeral, I would say there is a cause for concern. The best thing to do is to bring the matter out to the open. Ask the personal representative when they will begin to deal with the estate. If you do not get a definitive answer, gently offer to take on the responsibilities of dealing with the estate. If none of this works, seek advise from an estate attorney about the possibility of handling the estate yourself.
Taking or Using Tangible Property – Be wary of people using the property of the estate for their own benefit. If you see someone using a car, a boat, a house or some other property which used to belong to the deceased, there is cause for concern. Some persons might be allowed to continue to reside in the house belonging to the estate, or even to use its other assets, and you are well advised to consult with an estate attorney before telling them to stop, to avoid an uncomfortable situation.
If a person who is using the tangible property of the estate assures you that he or she has consulted with an attorney and was advised that they are entitled to use assets of the estate, make sure to get a written opinion from their attorney, containing the legal basis for the opinion. You would be well advised to show such letter to your own attorney, as there is often more then one way to look at the situation.
Some people are simply not aware that using or taking property belonging to the estate is often considered stealing. If you suspect that someone is using or taking property of the estate, bring the issue out in the open and discuss it with them, to avoid any misunderstandings.
Selling Assets of the Estate – See a “for sale” or “open house” sign in front of the house that used to belong to the deceased? Most people are aware that one is not allowed to dispose of assets of the estate without court approval (unless a trust is involved). However, some are not aware of this, and thus can sell an asset of the estate, making the court procedures much more difficult and expensive, and raising the possibility that some of the value of the asset being sold will never be recovered. Furthermore, the person who is trying to sell the asset of a trust might be aware that it is illegal to do so without court approval, but might be doing it anyway. If you suspect that an asset the estate asset being sold, you are well advised to contact an estate attorney.
“Oral Will” – If someone claims that the deceased told them that they can have a certain thing, you have no reason to believe them. Whatever is not in writing never happened.
Lying – Lying takes on many forms – you do not need an attorney to tell you that. If someone tells you a thing that you do not think is true, it is very possible that they are lying. If someone tells you that the estate has no assets, that the deceased did not wish to leave you anything, that they went to court and the judge told them that they can have the entire estate, and similar claims, you should face the possibility that they might be lying. You do not need an attorney to tell someone is lying, but you will probably need one to deal with the consequences.
Living Beyond Their Means – it is not unusual to have relatives or acquaintances who are living beyond their means. But if you see that a people who have access to the estate starkly improved their standard of living, this can be a tell-tale sign. If they are making expensive purchases, i.e. buying a new luxury car, wearing fancier clothing, going for a long and expensive vacation, this is a cause for alarm. Needless to say, if a person has quit a job right after funeral, this is something that needs to be looked into.
Acting Suspiciously – The emotional trauma involved is expected to reflect on the behavior of those around you. Nevertheless, you should be on guard for relatives who are acting suspiciously. It is natural to display some degree of guilt, but up to point. Excessive displays of guilt towards you may be a sign of intent to stiff you out of the estate. Avoiding eye contact is natural some time after the funeral, but continuous lack of eye contact well after the funeral may point to guilt from denying your share of the estate.
Avoiding You – Avoiding you and not answering your phone calls and emails can be a sign of grief, but it is also possible that someone is avoiding you to hide from their responsibilities to you.
Asking You to Sign Documents – By signing a one-page document, you can easily waive all of your rights in an estate. Do not let anyone rush you into signing a document. Read every document you sign, and consult an estate attorney before signing anything pertaining to the estate.
Dealing with the grief is not an excuse for falling victim to estate fraud. Contact an experienced estate attorney if you suspect that you are being denied your rightful share of an estate.