Dear Family Advisor

I was the beneficiary of my mother's trust deposit until that was changed to her husband's name a couple of months before she died -- and I think it was done illegally.

Last updated: Aug 04, 2008

My mother moved from Orlando (where I live) to Miami about eight years ago when she remarried. She died three months ago, and she had a certificate of deposit in trust for me that she gave me a copy of about six years ago.

When I went to the bank recently to change the account to my name, I found out that the beneficiary was changed to her husband's name only a couple of months before her death. I have reason to believe this change was done illegally and that she was not the one to sign it. She was in failing health and had dementia, diminishing her mental and physical abilities to make such a change.

The bank suggested that I call her husband right away and ask about it, but I chose instead to write him a letter. I never mentioned anything about the legality of it; I thought maybe he would just give in and give me the money.

He wrote me back and was very nasty: He called me a bad daughter and said that is why the change was made. He did enclose a check minus her funeral expenses, which I had no say in. (His daughter arranged the funeral and did not include me in the planning.) He also called me a liar and told me that she was happier with him than she had ever been in her life, asking me to survey my relatives in Miami about it.

I don't know what my next step should be. I will definitely write him back, but I don't know if I should even mention that I suspect that the change was done illegally.

What's the purpose of writing again to your mother's husband? If it's to let him know your suspicions and contest the name change on the CD, then it's probably best to let an elder-law attorney handle it. It doesn't sound like you can have a rational conversation with him. If you try, he'll simply justify himself and tear you down some more, since that seems to help him rationalize his actions.

The fact that he wrote you a check suggests that he may be feeling guilt over the situation and that he hopes to buy you off. Since you don't mention whether the check he sent you was close to the value of the CD or not, I can't really advise you on whether to pursue this legally. If it was significantly less, it may be worth it; if not, the attorney fees might gobble up the funds, and you'd be better off freeing yourself of him now. If you do involve an attorney, though, be prepared for a potentially long and ugly legal battle.

The man's harsh words for you no doubt hurt, but you can take heart in the fact that they probably have little to do with you; he may well have a history of dealing with relationships this way. You know the kind of daughter you were -- you know that you cared about your mother, and that's all that's important. And I wouldn't take his claims about your relatives at face value. Have any of them actually said anything negative to you? Fortunately, at this point, you don't need to subject yourself to his opinions anymore if you don't want to.

One thing to keep in mind, whether you pursue this further or not: You may be entitled to more money and may have every legal right to it, but remember that that won't bring your mom back. Many adult children feel pushed out by a parent's new marriage or partner, and it sounds like your mom's husband put a wedge between you and her during her final years. I hope you have some good memories of the two of you that you can focus on now. If you haven't done so, create a place in your home to remember her -- gather photos, knickknacks, and other things that remind you of the good times. Your mother's husband can't take away what's most important: your memories and your past with your mother.