This is the kind of family situation that no one should have to deal with. However, siblings don’t always treat each other with kindness, especially when a parent has died and the other sibling has not been directly involved with caregiving.
Many times, estate planning attorneys can read between the lines to discern the dynamics of a family when one sibling asks questions about another’s actions. One such example is an adult child who asks how they can be sure if a brother divided their mother’s estate evenly.
The mother had told the children about life insurance policies and a safety deposit box. However, the brother reported that life insurance policies were cashed out, the safety deposit box was emptied and closed, a car was sold, and a reverse mortgage placed on the house, before she died. If Mom did take these actions before she died and didn’t tell anyone, or if she only told one child, it may not look right to the other sibling.
Can this information be verified without things getting ugly?
It will take some investigating. The good news is that there's always a paper trail.
nj.com’s recent article asks, “My mom died. How can I know I'm getting the right inheritance?” As the article explains, if the policies were cashed out by the parent, they no longer exist.
If you know the name of the insurance company and policy number, you can try to call the life insurance company’s home office to confirm this. However, they may not give out much information if you weren’t the named beneficiary.
If Mom had a reverse mortgage, then you know she owned a home. If the home wasn’t owned jointly, then it would be a probate asset.
One way to determine this is to check with the county court where she died to see if a will was probated or any estate administration application was filed. The home would need to be sold by the executor or administrator, so there would be some paperwork. If there was, you can contact the executor/administrator for more information.
With a parent’s safety deposit box, the executor/administrator, once appointed, would have the authority to empty the contents of the box. However, if Mom previously emptied the contents, there’d be nothing for the executor/administrator to retrieve. You should check with that individual.
It is neither easy nor pleasant to think that a sibling would not be telling the truth about an inheritance. Start by asking some direct questions, in the kindest way possible, to clarify the timeline of these alleged events. Then get a sense of the value of the estate. It may be that you need to speak with an estate planning attorney to get all of the details. Consider the value of the estate and your relationship with your siblings, before going forward.
Reference: nj.com (February 21, 2019) “My mom died. How can I know I'm getting the right inheritance?”