My father passed away of prostate cancer and he also had Alzheimer’s disease. He married his on-again, off-again girlfriend of 30-plus years just two months prior to his death and he did not have a will. I was his only surviving child and he had no other family.
When he died, he owned and resided in a condo in Salt Lake City, Utah, valued at $ 350,000 with a note against it for $ 100,000. He also owned another condo (which had belonged to my mother) valued at $ 100,000 with a $ 15,000 special assessment against it. That condo had a long-term tenant with a monthly income of $ 600 per month. He also had a life insurance policy worth $ 5,000 and several timeshare properties.
I discussed the best strategy with my stepmother, and this is what they agreed upon (verbally, with some email support):
1. She could keep the rental income from his condos for the rest of her life, with the stipulation that she manage the property and related expenses.
2. She would obtain a will, and bequeath the paid-in-full rental condo back to him upon her demise.
3. She could execute my father’s estate, and as compensation for that and taking care of my father at the end of his life, could keep the primary residence for her own.
4. She could keep the timeshare properties and the life insurance policy funds
Long story short: She was in total agreement until about six months after probate closed, and since then will not return my phone calls or letters. I suspect she has mortgaged the paid-for condo and moved on with her life. Is there any legal action we can take against her at this point in time?
Son in Utah
Your letter took some familiar twists and turns. By the second sentence in your letter — the one beginning, “He married his on-again, off-again girlfriend…” — I knew where this was going. And when you outlined your estate verbal (and email) agreement, I had a pretty good idea that those plans would also come to naught. It played out with eerie déjà vu in relation to last-minute changes to inheritance and unresponsive stepmothers. Your stepmother has clearly had enough of being told what she can and can’t have and, literally and metaphorically, hung up.
This seems less like a case of skulduggery by your stepmother and more like a case of bad timing for you.
An ailing parent who is isolated by a new person in their life (a boyfriend or girlfriend) typically points to elder financial abuse. Your father and his girlfriend, however, were together (on-again, off-again) for 30 years. This seems less like a case of skulduggery (by her) and more like a case of bad timing (for you). That said, your arrangements with her were considerate and generous, but I can still see how being told what she may and may not have might have rankled, given that she had spent 30 years with your father.
There is good news, however. Your father married your stepmother, but he died without leaving a will. Under Utah law, you likely have a claim to part of the estate. The relevant statute is 75-2-102. “If the decedent died without a will and was domiciled in Utah, then the son would be entitled to part of the probate estate under Utah law,” says Marc Austin, a probate and estate planning attorney based in Provo, Utah. One caveat: Did you sign a document when probate closed to say you said you received everything you were entitled to? If so, this process may be more difficult.
The second legal issue is whether or not you and your stepmother had a contract. It seems like you didn’t, so you may not get exactly as you originally wanted, and that’s probably fair. They did get married, after all, after a 30-year (on-again, off-again) relationship. But she does have to abide by state probate law. So hire a lawyer who is well-versed in probate law and explain your situation. In what may seem like history repeating itself, your relationship with your stepmother will be on again, from a legal perspective at least, as soon as she hears from your attorney.
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