When my mother dies, is there anyway for my sister and I to receive the inheritance we deserve?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 24, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father was put in a home a year ago for demetia. My Mother is somewhat unstable and an alcoholc. I have two sisters and one brother. My Older sister convinced my mother that me and my younger sister were not worthy enough to inherit ie we don't have children. Ironically my sister's husband makes 300,000 per year. There was plenty of family disfunction due to the alcohol and disinterest in the family which caused my mother to constantly attack one daughter at a time, or in this case two due to my sister's influence. Neither me or my sister have done anything to deserve this and my father wanted the money to go equally to all 4 children. However when my father went into the home my sister set up an estate plan with my mother giving my sister and I 1,000 each - so we would not be able to dispute it. My mother did not tell me but I know my sister and it was verified by my Mothers brother. She wanted to make sure if anything happened to me that she would get my estate. I feel horribly betrayed and have suffered greatly. When my mother dies is there anything under these conditions that my sister and I can do?

Expert Answers

Judy and Fred co-mediate family property and financial conflicts, and each work individually as mediators as well. Judy Barber, a mediator and family business consultant, assists clients in resolving overlapping family and money conflicts so they are better able to make sound estate planning decisions. Frederick Hertz is an attorney and mediator who specializes in resolving co-ownership matters involving families, siblings, spouses, cohabitants and domestic partners.

A family conflict over an inheritance likes yours is excruciatingly painful. You have good reason to feel that you have been betrayed. It seems as though your sister dishonored your father's wishes and may have taken advantage of your mother's vulnerability. There may be a few approaches you can take from a "non-legal" perspective: Is there anyone in your family, perhaps your Mother's brother, or a counselor or a religious advisor who might be able to facilitate a conversation with your sister?

In the meantime, we encourage you to think through what caused your sister to become so unfair: Did the pattern begin in childhood? If not, when? Were there issues regarding your parents, favoritism of one of you over another that contributed to your sister's spiteful behavior? Is it possible that she felt that she carried the brunt of your mother's drinking and deserves the inheritance? These issues may not be what occurred, but something clearly has triggered her sense of entitlement. Think about what might that be, as your understanding her motivation may help you gain perspective and distance from her behavior.

From a legal perspective, you have the right to challenge the will "“ after your mother's death "“ on the grounds of undue influence (by your sister) or lack of capacity (due to her mental or physical condition). These are hard battles to win, and each state has its own set of procedures or legal standards. If a significant amount of money or property is at stake, we suggest you consult with an estate attorney now, while your mother is still alive. The attorney can explain to you the rules for this sort of dispute, and if appropriate, might be able to contact your mother now to discuss the situation. At a minimum, the lawyer would help you ascertain what information you should be collecting now, in case you want to launch a will contest down the road.