Should we get my father's inheritance from my grandparents even though he died before they did?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My grandparents are aging, and they have a fairly significant estate which, previously, was equally divided between my father and his three siblings. My father passed away three years ago, and some changes are currently being made by his mother and the surviving siblings, as my grandfather is in a nursing home and incapacitated. It appears as my brother and I are only being given a portion of what would have been my father's inheritance, and my mother nothing. Is this typical and fair? My family (my brother, mother and I) know that my father would have wanted his inheritance to go to his descendants. We have never had to navigate waters like this, and just want to know what the precedent is in a situation like this.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Few things feel as sticky as being in the midst of a family rift over property, especially one connected with distributing an estate, which also stirs up hard internal questions about morality and mortality.

One tough legal truth in your situation is that people are entitled to write and rewrite their wills however they please, as long as they retain the legal capacity to do so. And another one is that you generally must be alive to take property under a will, so when your father died, he no longer technically "inherited" anything from his parents.

It is typical for people to change their wills and other estate planning documents as they age, particularly after a major beneficiary, such as a child, dies--and as they face stresses and expenses they might not have foreseen, such as a stay in a nursing home.

So the scenario you describe is typical, although it may not feel fair. Your most rewarding path at this point is to try to make the most of the time you have left with your grandparents--and recognize that the rewards may have nothing to do with money or property.