My brother had been staying at my mother’s home at the time of her passing in March 2000. Shortly after she died, he told me, “Don’t worry, you have been handsomely provided for.” He said that he hadn’t actually seen her will yet, but that is what he had been told.
A few days later he called me to tell me that she had left me $ 10,000. He also said that he needed to go through all of her paperwork, get her affairs in order, pay off her bills, etc. and then he would get back to me.
In about a week or so, he called again to say that after paying her bills, there was barely any money left. I found this very hard to believe but a few weeks after that, the exact amount of cash that I finally received from him was $ 300.
She had left him her condo that she bought in 1996 and also her 1995 Ford Probe that she had paid cash for in 1995. At that time, both my brother and his girlfriend each had their own cars but my husband and I did not even have one. I asked him, “Since I am only getting $ 300, do you think that at least I could please have the car?” I was very happily surprised when he quickly agreed and suggested we go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to transfer the title and registration the following day.
My mother’s will is handwritten in a legal format. It did stated that I was to receive $ 10,000 from her investments. My brother said that after paying her bills, there was barely any money left. I found this very hard to believe, but a few weeks later he sent me $ 300.
While at the DMV the next day, the clerk asked him for all of the relevant paperwork needed for the transfer to be completed. This included her will. After she was finished looking at it and handed it back to him, he said, “Here, would you like this. It’s only a copy. You can have it.” I gratefully took it as I had never actually seen it before.
The will is handwritten in a legal format. It did indeed state that I was to receive $ 10,000 from her investments as well as some specific items of hers which I had already received. It also stated for my brother to receive her condo and her car as well as for many different items of hers to go to specific people. (To my aunt and to several of her dear friends)
My brother and I had always been close with each other and we were both very close to our mom. On the way home from the DMV, my brother began to say things to me that were unusually harsh. In essence, the condo was his now, not Mom’s. Don’t just be stopping by anytime. Come get your stuff out from the garage, etc. I found this really strange and hurtful. I was in tears driving back to my house in the Probe that was now mine. I told my husband what had happened and neither of us could understand why he would say such things.
Anyway, one day I decided to go to [redacted] bank for myself just to see what the status was with my mom’s accounts. They told me that my brother had closed them out back in April of that year and they no longer existed. They did not have the amount of what her balance had been at that time.
One afternoon about six months later, I cannot tell you why but something was telling me that I needed to look at the will again. I ran to the dresser where I kept it and I began to re-read it very closely looking at every written word and every letter of my mom’s writing. Then I took out my magnifying glass because I wanted to be 100% sure.
To my amazement, this is what I found. He (or somebody) had created a dollar sign ($ ) out of the first original digit in the figure making it $ 10,000. She had left me $ 110,000. I have never told my brother that I know about this. I have barely spoken with him more than a handful of times over the last 16 years.
Hiring an attorney has always been out of the question because of how much they charge just to get a case started. Unfortunately, my husband and I have never had the extra dollars in our budget. I do know that there is no Statute of Limitations in the California Family Court. This has been bothering me for years. That dirty rotten, piece of **** brother of mine had stolen all of my inheritance!
First, your frustration and feelings about your brother are palpable. I took the liberty of inserting some asterisks into your letter and I redacted the name of the bank. (And your exclamation mark already illustrates your feelings about your brother nicely.) Secondly, you have sat on this resentment and legal issue for 16 years. Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols once sang “anger is an energy” and, as unpleasant and corrosive as that emotion can be, it can also serve a purpose. It can either motivate us to take action and/or become a constant reminder that someone has done us wrong. Unfortunately, your anger appears to have led to the latter.
The more time that goes by, the harder it becomes to prove a case such as this. But it’s never too late to see what, if anything, can be done — so you can either find a resolution.
The more time that goes by, the harder it becomes to prove a case such as this. But it’s never too late to see what, if anything, can be done — so you can either find a resolution (one that involves a check for $ 110,000) or put this issue to bed with the knowledge that you have done everything you can, and move on with your life. I understand that you can’t afford a fancy lawyer, but there are free legal services in California and some attorneys do take cases on a pro bono basis (that is, without charging) if they think that you have a chance of winning. In this case, the court that administrated the estate should have a copy of the original will.
Time is not your friend when filing a case. In California, any interested person has 120 days after a will is admitted to probate to contest the will and may petition the court to revoke the probate of the will. Allowing so much time to slip by could cause another problem. There are exceptions to this 120-day rule, however: “The presence of extrinsic fraud in the procurement of the court order.” And: “The court order is based on the erroneous determination of the decedent’s death.” Even if you won, state law may have little impact, says George Teitelbaum, a lawyer specializing in wills, probate and trusts in Wheaton, Md. “If there were not enough funds to pay her $ 10,000 there certainly were not enough for $ 110,000.”
Maybe there was $ 110,000 in your mother’s estate at the time of her death and maybe not. And perhaps your brother did alter your mother’s will. Or maybe he didn’t. (For what it’s worth, it seems like a rather crude way to steal a family inheritance and I am surprised that a court would overlook a clumsily doctored will.) Revisit this with your brother to get to the truth, with the help of a pro bono lawyer or free legal aid. People get greedy when they see an easy way of dipping their hand into the proverbial cookie jar. I’m thinking here of the brother who wanted his mother to sign over her house and the stepmother who wondered if the death of her stepchildren would hurt her husband’s credit score. That cookie jar makes people crazy.
Don’t let it make you crazy. If you have been the victim of fraud and your valiant legal efforts still come to naught, light a candle for your mother and move on.
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