Inheriting Money and Possessions

Parent Q&A

Inherited money - keep a secret from BFF? Dec 16, 2018 (24 responses below)
Need online tool to help with distributing parents' belongings Dec 14, 2017 (2 responses below)
  • Inherited money - keep a secret from BFF?

    (24 replies)

    I inherited money. Lots of it. It was unexpected. My immediate family wasn’t all that rich but my extended family was. 

    How much you ask? Enough to buy a really nice house in Berkeley and fund college education and retirement. We have a tiny place, we are behind on retirement, and didn’t expect to contribute to kids education. So yeah that’s all great. 

    My question is this. My best friend. I haven’t told her how much. I haven’t told anyone really. But it will all become rather clear as we upgrade our lifestyle. 

    This makes me feel weird, and distant from the friend I share innermost thoughts with. She’s had financial and personal set backs due to Great Recession and divorce. She’s doing well but will probably not ever buy a house in the Bay Area. She’s had a ton of crap happen in the last ten years. I feel weird not telling her details. And I’d feel weird telling her details. What if she’s jealous? What if by telling her our relationship changes? What if she tells other people?  What if what if. 

    Any thoughts about this? Experiences related to sharing money details to people? 

    Thank you for your advice! 

    I will be impressed if you are able to navigate this without it changing (harming) your friendship. In my experience, it is tough to be friends with people who have very different financial circumstances from yours.  It's going to hurt your friendship if you don't say anything, either.  I guess I would vote for half-truth. You inherited enough money to be able to buy a house.  I would leave out the fully-funded retirement and the college fund.  The house is hard to hide, but she doesn't need to see your Vanguard statements. 

    Also, you didn't ask for financial advice, but be careful with your windfall! Buy a decent house, but don't go nuts. You may need a lot more for retirement than you think - you may want to be able to help your kids beyond their college education - you may have expenses you don't anticipate.  Take advantage of the fact you are used to a modest lifestyle, and don't upgrade too much. And get a good accountant so you stay on top of your tax situation. 

    Windfall money is very hard on friendships and relationships.  Lots of people start asking for money. They start expecting you to pick up the tab for dinner, etc...  Somehow, people see it differently than earned money.  It’s tough to navigate.  Is it worth buying a big house if it costs you your longtime friendships?

    As to buying a big house, I would think long and hard about it before doing it.  The taxes are enormous and just keep growing each year.  Taxes are a big ongoing cost that you will need to factor into your annual costs both now and throughout retirement.  Truly, talk to a financial advisor before upgrading your house.

    As to funding retirement and college—yes!  What a relief to take care of those big items, especially from inheritance money.

    Another idea—think about using the money to fund an investment that can earn money for you into your retirement.  Several family members have bought rental properties, and they are very happy with the long term income especially into retirement.  This might take a bit of work to find a well-priced investment property in the Bay Area.

    Funding retirement, college, and investments are things that aren’t so visible, so it can be easier on your friendships.  If you have been wanting to dump your friends and make new ones...well, then, it’s another thing.  :)

    I think you need to tell your friend. If you keep it from her, she will find out some other way. Secrets like this are never good. She might be envious, or not, but that's okay, if you are good friends you can weather this. Allow her to have whatever feelings she has.  I think she would feel betrayed if you don't talk with her about it. I also suggest that you talk with someone else first to process what this brings up for you. If I were your friend, I would definitely want to know. 

  • My mother and father have both passed away, and myself and my three brothers are beginning to figure out how we will distribute our parents' belongings. We live in three different states, spread around the country. I am wondering if people know about an online computer tool that will help us use photos to identify the possessions and then have a computer-based discussion about who would like each item. If you don't know about this, are people aware of support organizations that help adult children manage these aspects of parents' death, estate resolution, etc.? Thank you. has some tools online around estate planning (although you'd have to adapt for this situation). In our family, there was lots of discussion of what to do with all "mom's stuff" but until my spouse and his sister organized their calendars to both be there (at their childhood home in a third city) at the same weekend with a game plan, nothing happened. I would suggest trying to schedule just you and your siblings (no spouses, strong teenage sons OK!) for 2-3 days, with the goal of inventorying everything. Leave it at that for now (not positing it as the "take what you want" weekend) and you may get more cooperation in a good spirit. Good luck, this is not a fun part of family life. (Hopefully I'm just projecting!!)

    My Mom is low tech so we didn't get this to work.  For my Gma's household items I suggested she make a Google doc (very easy for all to access & simutaneously update).  My focus was more to help my Mom who lives in same town as my Grandmother.  I thought my Mom could list some of the weird things at my Gma's house (old oxygen tank from Gpa, very hazardous insecticides, etc) and then my Uncle (very social & web savvy but lives out of town) could make calls and do research to help her find places to get rid of these items.  He would then add details of his research and organization contact info in the Google doc.    

    Per other suggestion, getting together is very helpful.  Some people have eye for what should go to Goodwill vs. Estate Sale and some do not.  Also, we are finding it very interesting what's special to someone vs. others.  My cousin wanted some gong that my Gma used to call people to dinner.  My Gma never used that w/ us and I barely knew it existed.  

Archived Q&A and Reviews


What to do with $100,000 inheritance?

April 2010

We need advice and/or a recommendation for a someone who could give us advice....we recently inherited this large sum of money and are struggling with what to do with it in the short and long term. We are a family of 3, owe couple hundred thousand on our Oakland house, have not saved much for retirement (but expect more inheritance down the road), and our daughter has a college fund that her grandfather contributes to...We are not financially savvy AT ALL and don't know what to do with it beyond taking care of household/yard concerns. Should we renovate our small house that we are outgrowing, move to an area with better schools, invest? Anybody have general recommendations? We are so afraid to make the wrong choice that it is simply sitting in our bank savings account. lucky to have this problem


I know an amazing Financial Advisor for Merrill Lynch (previously Banc of America Investments). His name is Blake Welpton and he has an office at the Bank of America in Montclair and a second one in the Merrill Lynch Building in downtown Oakland. He has a fantastic understanding of the financial world and truly cares about his clients. His main interest is making your money grow. Give him a call and make an appointment. He'll be happy to sit down with you and give you advice. Blake Welpton Merrill Lynch 510-457-2030

Good Luck! Making my money grow

I would suggest you speak to a professional. You may want to invest now or later. I go to Jennifer Fish at Merrill Lynch in Oakland. She is down to earth and I loved/hated it that she insisted that I understand what I was doing with my money. No one can beat the market for you but a good broker can help you figure out what you want - spend some now, security, risk?

Congratulations. I really suggest that you plan for the future. A lot of people run though money having fun and then it's gone and they wonder what they spent it on. dck

It's very simple really. Give it to me! anon

Get yourself to a qualified financial planner immediately. You'd be wise to let an expert in these matters help you rather than rely on the advice of friends or others when you don't know their qualifications. Financial planners will help determine the best short and long term use for the money. You're right, I *wish* I had your problem.

I am not a financial planner but my husband and I both come from families that lived frugrally but well. In your situation, I would first make sure that you have an emergency fund in a safe place, like a CD or higher interest savings account, not the stock market. (There are online banks that pay better rates than brick and mortar ones.) Make sure that your emergency fun covers 3-6 months of living expenses.

I also would never want to be in a position where I'm counting on an inheritance to feel secure for my own retirement. People live a long time, and I just would rather keep my financial security under my own control. That's why I would use this windfall to jump-start your retirement savings. You could start a Roth IRA and -- if you have it at work -- start contributing to your 401K. You can also find some low-cost index mutual funds to invest some money.

If you want to read up further, I would read the book Making the Most of Your Money by Jane Bryant Quinn. She has updated it lately, but I read it 10 years ago as a newlywed and it helped my husband and I become comfortable about taking charge of our money. You should definitely do something to treat yourselves, whether it is a vacation or improvements to the house, but I would use the majority of it (say 90%) to think about protecting your family and yourself in the future. You'll sleep better at night. Kelly

See a financial planner. Amy Blodgett in San Francisco is great. C

Invest some of it in sessions with a good financial planner. S/he can help you figure out exactly what to do with your inheritance. We recently worked with Julie Asti, a financial planner in Berkeley, and it was worth every penny. We are not so good with money ourselves and the fee we paid Julie bought us peace of mind and helped us see how to make some of our life goals a reality. Good professional advice will help you make the most of your inheritance. go to an expert

It's hard to give advice without knowing information such as how much you've saved for retirement, how much debt you have, how old you are and how old your child is. For that reason, you might want to see a financial adviser. If you have an IRA, you should have an account manager who will meet with you and go over all your finances for free. My husband and I did this recently and it was very helpful. That said, this is what I'd do with the $100,000. First, I'd take 3-6 months of living expenses and put them in rotating CDs. For example you could take $40,000 and have four $10,000 CDs, one for 3 months, one for 6, one for 9 and one for 12. That way you are making a bit better interest than a savings account, but have the money available to you for the short term. Next, I'd take $5,000-$10,000 for a money market account. That will be your immediate rainy day fund in case the sewer needs to be replaced, the house painted, taxes paid etc. Once you have your safety net, I'd pay off debt, especially high interest credit card debt (only exception to this might be a low interest home equity loan). After that, if you don't have them I'd start a ROTH IRA for each of you. I believe you can contribute $9,600 a year as a couple, but you should check that number. With your safety net established, you could contribute more to a 401K which would help save for retirement. Fan of the Safety Net

You really need to consult with a financial advisor right away. I would suggest trying with your insurance company to see if they offer that service for free first. Otherwise, try doing a search on the internet for someone from a reputable company in your area. Isadora

After reading the first set of replies, I'd like to say that the replies were all good, especially the one with the detailed approach about laddering CDs for emergency fund, money market fund, paying off high interest debt, etc.

To that, I'd like to add another word of advice. Keep in mind that there is a difference between people who offer financial advice on a fee-for-service basis and those who recommend specific investment vehicles that pay them a commission. I'd strongly urge paying for financial planning advice on an hourly basis as there is an inherent conflict of interest in placing money in investments that reward the seller with a commission.

I would also strongly advise against investing in anything you don't understand. A few years back my husband was going to invest $30,000 with Merrill Lynch. We both had a couple of sessions with them and at the end still couldn't get them to explain their funds, the A shares, the B shares, etc. in a way we could understand. In the end we left feeling like they were trying to take adavantage of our lack of understanding so we opted to invest on our own instead.

If you choose to put money in a mutual fund, you can do that yourself without having to pay a broker. You might also consider investing in no-load (i.e., no cost) index funds with Vanguard--they have some of the lowest operating costs available. Many mutual funds have a load of 1 or 2% either when the money goes in or when the money goes out. You can certainly find no-load funds that earn the same yield without the extra cost. One or two percent may not sound like much but over time the difference can be huge.

You can also follow the advice about setting aside money for an emergency, paying off debt, etc., and then park the rest in a money market and take some time to do some research on your own. You don't have to invest all of it at one time.

Good luck. What a great ''problem'' to have. anonymous

Lucky you, what a gift! I would definitely put it towards your mortgage. It would be such a relief to pay your house down entirely, and then not have to worry about how to make ends meet! I wish we had this!

The one concern about an investment adviser, is that you have to remember that they will promote their own interests (i.e., making money off of you). Now, if you make more money, they also make more money, so that is good, but you will never catch them telling you to put some (or all) towards your mortgage or your children's education.

Eric Tyson has written some good books -- read up on the basics of personal finance and you will be able to do it all on your own.

Most advisors charge a % on your portfolio. they will put your money and other accts into investments that supposedly only they have access to, but charge hefty fees on the front, and back end.

I had retained advisors for years and the one thing they were all good at was making me feel great about my choice. I was on a ''high'' for several years and wanted everyone around me to get an advisor. At some point I got curious about what seemed like a guaranteed income stream for my advisor via that pesky monthly WRAP fee on my statements, and a few spreadsheets later I discovered that my return was anywhere between -5% to +3% per year, but regardless of that, the advisor was making a nice sum of money. I also found that the investments they had supposedly told me where prime money market accounts, but were well below every other bank and brokerage, the funds they put me in had far higher maintenance and redemption fees, etc. I moved my money out and had to endure that whole drama of ''how could you leave this long relationship we've established'' and all that (seriously!) and was able to have better liquidity, higher yields, fewer fees, less complexity, and far better control of my money.

100K is not all that much money to manage yourself. If you think it is too complicated, it will be even more complicated to figure out how much money your fin advisor and your funds are making in fees.

It may sound scary to think that you can manage 100K, but it really is not all that much or overly complicated, or time consuming. There are basic principles on how to get started and a good book, or some blogs will tell you how to get started. I you want to compare rates, etc, is a great website. Vanguard has a website where people who manage money on their own exchange hints and info.

After I started managing my money on my own, I put it all into local and smaller institutions, and I gave it three years. At the end of that I calculated how much my fin advisor would have made from me, and gave it to a charity. (By then I began getting checks from my former advisor's firm due to some class action settlement which dictated that they compensate their clients for excessive fees and other such ''events''). I learned a lot about how deregulated the whole industry is.

You can do it! nick

We inherited about $200k a few years ago, and used to to buy a home (didn't own one yet), and then have a safety net. Since then, we then sold that home & bought in a good school district, so we won't have that cost to worry about. Then, 401k is your big focus, especially if you haven't saved much there (while of course leaving the traditional 3-6 months or more in liquid savings).

You'll be surprised but while it sounds like a lot, it won't change your lives! Last thing - don't live as though you're counting on that next inheritance - you never know, as those who invested with Bernie Madoff will tell you:) All for smart spending

Before you embark on any course of action, I lay here before you a true story of three little pigs:

Matriarch pig lives in a filthy hole. Never spends a penny. Is frugal beyond reason. While alive she denies herself all comforts and then dies leaving each of the three little pigs with $500k each.

Little pig number one is the youngest and spends the funds on two cars, one motorcycle, more than one racing bike, travel, an education at $40k per year institution, but doesn't finish. Much irresponsibility later this little pig goes on to a terrific job, family with 2.5 pigs, an advanced degree completed later. Now: happy and doing well.

Little ''middle'' pig spends it on therapy, travel, and finishing an undergraduate degree at less expensive institution. This pig diversified, used advisors paid on commission, advisors paid by flat fee, and did self piggy research. Two great big investment windfalls and three huge losses later (.com + real estate bust) the only thing this pig has to show for $:are lessons of therapy, foreign language skill, therapist's house remodel completed due to piggy patronage. Now: in career transition, divorced, single parent. Still - Happy and doing well.

Little pig number three is the eldest: therapy, an advanced degree (finished BA yrs before). Traveled somewhat, but mostly used the funds a little here, a little there, to supplement this years self employment income, that car repair, fund this great cause and those dinners out, weekends away, the training here and there; as income while attending school full time and unpaid internships in new field once advanced study was finished. Now: Single, great job, happy and doing well.

The moral of this story is that there is no right or wrong thing to do. We used the money based on our values, to the best of our ability. No matter which advice you follow-your own, or someone else's- you'll only be as happy as you ever were before the windfall- even if nothing works out the way you thought it should. Piggy

Husband not interested in his inheritance

March 2009

My husband's parents are both deceased and his mom passed away recently-- about 8 months ago. He does not seem interested in claiming his inheritance. He claims to know what it is (a home in the bay area, perhaps some small investments) but he hasn't seen the Trust and is only relying on his siblings account of things. He has two older siblings who took charge of caring for their mom as her health declined over the past 5 years. He feels immense guilt at not having done more for her, but there are many factors that contributed to this (we live farther away, have small children, his siblings took charge of things without consulting him ....). I think the guilt is preventing him from pursuing his inheritance. I'm unfamiliar with how things work with in this kind of situation. Is 8 months a realistic amount of time to wait to see the trust? I'm not sure that I trust his siblings--they are renting the family home out and I don't know where that income is going to. They said the lawyer is putting the property in their names, but would it take this long? Obviously this is a very sensitive subject for my husband. When I bring it up he gets stressed. I know its the guilt. He told me he doesn't think he deserves as much of the inheritance because he didn't help out as much when his mom was sick, even though he's been there at other times for her. Maybe it's none of my business--is it? We could really use the extra money, but he seems in no hurry to figure it all out. Am I overstepping my boundries? Do I sound insensitive? Should I stop bringing it up? Anon

Since you are married, your husband's action/inaction with regard to his inheritance, impacts both of you and, IMHO is a topic for BOTH of you to consider.

What do you think would work for you in terms of solving this problem for yourself?

If I were in your shoes I would request permission to contact the lawyer involved in the estate myself (if husband cannot/will not do so) to simply get the facts.

The lawyer should be automatically keeping all siblings informed of the progress on settling the estate in writing. If the lawyer does not have contact information for your husband, it could be the reason s(he) is not doing so.

I invite you to take action on behalf of your family, especially in the information gathering stage. Sandy

I think the uncertainty of the situation is what is bothering you. If you are OK with your husband just letting the money go (and really, if that is what he wants, you should be OK with it) then tell him that. But I think it is fair to ask to *make* this decision, not just let it happen because he didn't want to deal with it and simply let things slide. If he wants his other siblings to have the inheritance, he should tell you outright and tell them and then you can all move on.

MYOB. This is between your husband and his siblings. You have no say in this, ma'am. sibling too

Your situation seems still too vague to give much of a response, but just from my own recent experience I thought I could add a few things. My father died last year - the estate is still not settled and will not be, according to the estate lawyer, until some time next year, mainly because his estate was large enough to require dealing with the IRS which takes some time. It is not the case that inheritances can be disbursed immediately, or even after 8 months. But what seems strange to me here is that you don't mention a will, an estate lawyer or an executor. All of these things would mean that sooner or later - if there as an inheritance - your husband would be informed about what would be coming to him. It would be almost impossible for anything to be done behind his back. However, if he's not even in the will, then that's the end of that - there's nothing for him to inherit. So either you contact the siblings and find out if he's included in the will, or try and figure out who the estate lawyer or who the executor is and ask the same questions. But your husband is not automatically entitled to anything here, if there was a will - so that may also be why he's not pursuing it - he may already know that there is nothing to claim. SM

Please back off. You want the money that is clear. Your husband was absent when needed the most and he wants his siblings to figure out their fair share and willingly take what they assign to him. That is his way of resolving his guilt and absence. He also wants to remain in good standing with his siblings. I hope you see how important that is to him. You pushing him into becoming more active about the inheritance (''get over your guilt and get some money for us'') is ignoring all of this and putting your household needs first. Staying in the background is your husband's apology to his siblings and also his genuine way of honoring them for the work they have done. It would look really weird and inappropriate if, all of a sudden, he wants to take a front seat. As a sibling I would be appalled by that. Please keep your financial problems/dreams out of it! Expect nothing and be grateful for what you end up receiving. Your husband does not need to be managed - I understand and support his reasoning completely and I agree with your implication that this is none of your business. Anonymous

Normally, I would say that what goes on in the other family should be off limits to you, but I benefited from my wife's perspective on this when I was in a similar position. She said I should claim my share, and to not trust my siblings since they were looking out for themselves only. I felt a lot of guilt too, but she convinced me that I didn't deliberately move far away to avoid looking after our mother. Your husband's siblings may have benefited in other ways, while looking after their mother. Their devotion is commendable, and if he wants to reward them in some way, he could.

I am not a lawyer, but I can imagine a case where after a period of time the sibling that does not come forward could forfeit their share. Get legal advice on this -- there may be statutes of limitation, etc, and the lawyer may just be waiting for them to expire so that he can put the house in their name. That's one reason it could take this long.

Be sensitive about your involvement in this. I don't think it is appropriate to express sentiments about his siblings, i.e. that YOU don't trust them. It might be more constructive to talk to him in a way that relieves his guilt a little more. He doesn't need to be so hard on himself. You have a great husband. Don't be hard on him for not pursuing this as a way to relieve your financial difficulties. Instead steer him more towards the idea that he needs to figure out and accept the trust as a way of honoring what his late mother really wanted.

What to do with small inheritance?

March 2007

By the end of June I will receive a small inheritance, somewhere between $5,000 and $9,000 US. I've never had this much money in one lump sum before, ( I am middle-aged and living hand to mouth), and need honest, professional advice on how to invest and grow it into enough to live on and support my small business. I am not looking to live extravagantly, but rather to cover monthly expenses, help with daycare and clothing expenses for my grandchildren, and donate to my pet causes. Any useful information or references will be greatly appreciated. Invisible woman

That amount of money is too small to ''grow into'' enough to live off of. If I were you, I would keep it all to myself as a rainy day fund, and/or put it towards retirement. Try no to give it all away. It's really not that much money, so be a little selfish. One possibility is to fund a Roth IRA for a few years in a row, that way what you get out of it will not be taxed. Invest it conservatively since it seems like you might be near retirement age. Ann Ominous

My advice is to open an interest earning account with ING Direct ( You can link this account to your checking account and easily transfer funds between the accounts. Assuming you earn about 5% on $8,000 you will have an extra $30-$35 per month to spend without using up any of your inheritance. If you choose not to spend the interest you earn but let it grow, you can expect your money to double in about 14 years. Of course this assumes that you are in a zero tax bracket and that you do not need to pay any tax on the interest. If you do pay tax, you will actually have less than $30 per month and it would take longer than 14 years for the money to double if left untouched. This is how the numbers look. Chances are if you spend a little here and a little there for this and that, then the whole thing will be gone before you know it. Whatever you do, have fun. As a wise person once said, ''Don't sweat the small stuff, and it is all small stuff.'' anon

Put the money in a high-yield savings account or a CD. You can get around 5 percent at most banks right now, or try a credit union. anon

To fight or not to fight for grandmothers estate?

March 2007

Hello, My best friend, my grandmother, just died. Over the last three years of her life her drug addicted 65 year old son had moved back into the house with her. It turns out that over that period before she died he had everything signed over to his name. The estate of my grandmother is really not a lot of money, but I and my mother (her daughter) are trying to decide if it is worth fighting for. The issue is not so much the money, there was about 5 thousand in the bank which he has already taken out and spent, and a car, which he has already given to his daughter who is a meth addictb&. So all that is left is the house really. And the thing is, as it is going to him or his daughter (who he found out about only after she was about 11 years old) will spend it on drugs. I feel it is such an insult to my grandmother that all she and my grandfather worked for is going to be spent by these two drug addicts, on , no doubt, drugs. My grandmother had three children and seven grandchildren; the one girl who stands to inherit everything was never anything but nasty to my grandmother. She has been in and out of jail. My uncle who got everything signed over to him is a perverted, abusive, drug addict. I think my grandmothers thinking was that my uncle would have no way to take care of himself and that her other two children, my mother and another uncle, are competent enough to do so. However, it is clear my uncle who signed the whole estate to himself is going to spend it fast, and probably on drugs. I think I should try and be zen, let it go, know my relationship with my grandmother is what counts, and the other part of me thinks we should fight him for it. My mother is asking my advice about what to do, and I am too emotional about the whole thing to give her good advice. need advice

Fight. Talk to a good probate attorney and fight. Get your options and costs figured out and make an informed decision. My husband had a situation happen where he was 'cut out' of the will and all was left to his sister by his Grandmother who was not very well balanced, and even less so at the time of her death. Long story short he regretted not challenging it. He later found out that he could easily have challenged it and had a fair hearing. (Whether in front of a judge or a probate officer I don't know).

I would be devastated if my hard work and investments never made it into my childrens, and grandchildrens hands because of underhanded methods. You need to do it for your grandmother as well your mother and yourself. It's not just about the money but money is important too.

Let it go. Even though your grandmother may not have made the right decision by signing everything over to your drug abusing uncle, it was her decision to make. Nothing in your post suggests that she was incompetent to make that decision, so unless you can show that your uncle unduly pressured her into doing so, you wouldn't really have a case.

Don't allow your uncle's and cousin's behavior ruin your memories of your grandmother. It's only her stuff. Try to put this behind you and focus on the ways that you want to remember her. Anon

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. I think the answer depends on why you think your grandmother signed everything over. If you feel she was somehow duped or taken advantage of (esp. duped) it might be good to fight. If you feel she made the decision of her own accord, I would let it go. It was her property to dispose of as she saw fit and if she was of sound mind and not under duress it's really between her and her son. Anon

''I feel it is such an insult to my grandmother that all she and my grandfather worked for is going to be spent by these two drug addicts, on, no doubt, drugs.'' I say, do a little ritual to explain to your grandmother why you won't be fighting for her estate and let it go. Don't spend your lifeblood on litigation with addicts. Get away. Preserve your memory of your grandmother's home as you knew it. Grand-daughter

You may not have any legal leverage but call Len Tillem in Sonoma. He does a radio show and takes e-mail questions. He has a website. His specialty is elder law and I've heard him answer questions like this in two minutes flat. Good luck. anon

A few years ago I was in the opposite situation: my grandmother left everything to my cousin, effectively leaving her two sons and their children, not to mention this cousin's mother and sister, nothing. We suspected it had something to do with taxes - clearly my grandmother wanted to favor her daughter (my cousin's mother)without worrying about inheritance tax. In her will, she only justified this by saying that my dad (her son) didn't need anything and her other son (my uncle) was a drunkard who had already received plenty from her. Somehow she left out my cousin's sister - so we think she may have been coerced but we decided not to contest it - at the time, emotions were high, feelings were raw. It's hard.

It's really hard to deal with something like this, when you can't talk to your grandmother about why this was done. It took me a good 4 years to reconcile myself to her WILL and my uncle committed suicide a year later. So, she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't - leave her estate equally.

Now you're in the situation where someone who doesn't ''deserve'' it, got everything. Unless your grandmother was mentally incompetent, she may have had her reasons. Unlike my grandmother, maybe she wanted to help the weaker son. Maybe it was worth it to her to have your uncle around? Would your mother feel better if he were cut out entirely? Is there any way she can talk to him? I would see if the estate will be probated. Sorry this isn't too helpful, I just know that based on my own prior experience, I decided to have my will clearly outline my wishes and I talk to my kids about it a lot so that there won't be any hurt feelings. anon

There is nothing in your post to suggest that your grandmother was not of sound mind when she left her estate to your uncle. If these were her wishes (regardless of her motivation) then you need to let it go. You may feel angry and sad about this but also know that if your uncle and his daughter are meth addicts that their lives are hell. anon

You should see an experienced elder law attorney ASAP. What your uncle did is elder financial abuse. YOu may or may not decide to fight about it in the end, but you should make an informed decision. A good place to start is to call Legal Assistance for Seniors in Oakland, and they can probably give you a referral. Dont give up the fight without legal advice

Unfair division of mom's estate

Jan 2005

My mom died more than two years ago. My sister was named executor of her estate. She and her husband had been living with mom, taking care of her for four years before her death. During that time they lived completely off her meager retirement income. They paid no rent, uitlities, or other living expenses like food, personal supplies, even gas for their cars. Nada.

After her death they continued to live in the house. It is unclear to myself and my four other sibs that they did not continue to pay their own bills with mom's money. Finally, after much foot dragging, excuses, missed deadlines, mishandling of the sale of the house, etc., they are out.

But, the money situation does not add up. Mom died with about $100,000.00 dollars in her savings account. Sister doled out $10,000.00 to each sibling, for a total of $60,000.00. Leaving $40,000.00. Mom also had just under ''$2000.00 in her checking account.

The house was sold for $501,000.00, as is, with a 6% sales commission. She gave each of us $77,000.00 as our share. But when you subtract 6% from $501,000.00 and divide by 6, you get $78,490.00. Each of us five sibs were shorted $1,490.00 on this. Sister now claims that their is only about $10,000.00 left to be split.

I know there must be some legitimate expenses, like funeral fees, headstone, laywer and accountant fees. Probate cost a little over ''$1,000.00. But from my thinking, I see $42,000.00 from cash and another $7,450.00 from the house for a total of ''$49,450.00. I just don't see how my sister could have legitimately spent almost $40,000.00 to close my mom's estate.

None of the items in the house were sold. A few special things were given to individuals, but the rest she took. What she didn't want, she gave away.

Every time any one of us have even started to approach the subject of the estate in the last two years, my sister has gone berserk with anger, and I mean that literally. She refuses to discuss anything calmy or rationally. She does not stay on topic. She goes off on things that happened to her in her childhood, the numerous wrongs she suffered, the totally thankless job she was left with, having to give up her life for four years for mom, the tremendous amount of work the estate is/was, her husband's health,(which is not good) and on and on.

At this point I only communicate with her via email. I and a few of my sibs have stated to her that we expect her to produce a basic accounting of mom's estate. A list of assets, and list of expenses. She has stated that she will get around to this, but then doesn't find the time. She and her husband are both retired.

Two questions. How can I get my sister to close the estate? I don't want to sue. And if she does provide an accounting, what should I do if the numbers she provides are incorrect? She does not know that I obtained a copy of the probate papers.

I'd like to find a happy ending here. One where mom's estate is divided equally, as according to her will, and where my sibling and I can have the best family relationship possible. anon

OK, I got out my calculator and I have some figures for you. $40,000 plus $1490 x 5 siblings = $47,450 that you think should be accounted for. Your sister took care of your mom for 4 years, so $47,450 divided by 4 years = 11,862.25 per year, $988.52 per month, $32.95 per day (because I think she probably didn't have weekends off), and finally $2.75 per hour ( I gave her a 12 hour day, although I know from experience that it really is a 24 hour a day job). There's your expenses list, and the final result of my equation? You got her cheap. My advice? Put away your calculator and thank your sister. anon

My mother died recently. I am co-executor of my mother's will. I know how difficult these times can be. I'm really sorry for your loss. I hope my thoughts will be helpful to you.

I have found that letting go of my mother's assets, whether they are things or money, is part of the process of letting go of her. I cannot separate my grief over her loss from the difficulty of letting go of her things. I can however acknowledge the process and look carefully at what is really most important to me. For example, I would never purchase a bumpy milk-glass butter dish. But it is the butter dish we used while I as growing up and it is on my counter right now. Every day I look at it and wonder what in the heck I have this thing for. Every day I remember using it as a child and finding it in Mom's house after she died, and I decide to keep it. Some day I will sell it at a garage sale, but not yet. I'm not ready to let it go yet. But someday I will.

We all have issues in our families and in the best of all worlds we hope that in times of great stress we can pull together and build stronger bonds. Based on your description of your situation, it seems clear that you need to be the one to take action to build stronger bonds. Your sister does not appear to be in any condition to do this. Ultimately, you need to decide if your relationship with your sister is more important than your one sixth share of $40,000.

I realize this is a lot of money. But how do you put a value on family? How do you put a value on the 4 years that your sister lived with and took care of your mother? How do you put a value on the work that your sister is doing to administer the estate? Was living expense free during those 4 years adequate compensation for her? What things might she have been doing with her life, if she weren?t living with or taking care of your mother? How would your life have changed if you had lived with and taken care of your mother during those 4 years?

As I see it, your sister has made tremendous sacrifices on behalf of your mother and ultimately you and your siblings. Separate from the issue of money, I would be deeply grateful to my sister for caring for my mother during the last 4 years of her life. I suspect and hope that your sister provided your mother with companionship, love, conversation, assistance with household chores, tracking of medical issues and appointments, and much more. What would you have paid to have someone other than your sister provide that service? Would room and board and maybe $10,000 a year seem fair? If so, then you are even. If not are you willing to sue her for the difference? Assuming you could even win a judgment, would winning a judgment in a law suit like this make you feel better? Would it be worth it? Assuming the money is already spent, which I?m sure it is, are you willing to attach her retirement income to pay back this debt? Would she have to go back to work to pay you back? Would that satisfy you?

Do I think you have the right to an accurate accounting of the estate expenses? Absolutely. Do I think you are going to get them? No. Is it worth pressing for it? Personally I don?t thing so.

I think it would be helpful for you and your sister to sit down and have a conversation about what the last 6 years have been like for both of you, but especially for her. I think your sister?s defenses will come down if she sees you understand her position. I think it would be helpful for you to identify what things you are grateful to her for and express that to her.

Finally and very practically... Would you pay $6,700 (1/6 of $40,000) to have this resolved completely and peacefully right now? If your answer is yes, then forget it. Forgive her. Be grateful that your mother was not alone during the last years of her life. Get on with your life.

Warmest wishes, Karen

There are laws that govern this and your sister does need to report the division of the estate. But ... you did receive $77,000, the amount in dispute is less than a 10th of that amount (probably considerably less than that) .... and your sister did put her life on hold for four years to take care of your mother. If she hadn't you, or another sibling would have had to pay a caretaker, or pay for an assisted care home, which would have been considerably more than your sister siphoned off the estate. Also, you would have had the expense of frequent visits to your mother and of taking days off work. I've let a number of inheritance items go with my siblings (mostly who got what) because it didn't seem like getting what I wanted was worth the fight -- after all relationships are considerably more important than things. anon

I was recently in the position that your sister was in. My siblings ''just couldn't deal'' with our ailing father and so it was all dumped on me - providing emotional and physical support, paying all bills, arranging all appointments, and finally, liquidating his estate.

Believe me, your sister's life was on hold for an excruciatingly long, painful time. You're very lucky to have had someone to deal with this instead of yourself. The numbers you mentioned make perfect sense to me. There are such an overwhelming number of fees and expenses that I'm still unable to completely close the estate after two years - the unexpected bills keep rolling in.

Even if your sister is retired, seeing your mother through her end of life and then dealing with the estate was probably a full- time job for a while. It probably took a heavy toll on her and her husband's life. And it was unpaid and obviously not fully appreciated. It sounds to me like your sister has been more than fair. Even if she had taken the $40,000 for herself, that would come to only $10,000 a year, far less than the cost of a nursing home and far less than she deserved. If there was a funeral, a headstone, an attorney, and an accountant, then it could EASILY have totalled $40,000. If it only cost $20,000, are you worried that she scammed $5,000 for each of the years she carried that burden?

I think that you should be thanking God that someone took care of all of that labor and then handed you a big fat check for doing nothing. My father's estate was also split equally, with me doing all of the work and my greedy, thankless siblings constantly worrying that I would take one dime more than my share. Like you, they can't figure out why they didn't get more money and wring their hands about whether I've taken more than my equal share. If they had participated more they would realize that dying is an expensive business.

My advice is that you take a good long look at how much someone else has done for you and be thankful for what you've been given for nothing. Then tell her that you need to see an accounting of the entire estate for your taxes. That's really all you have a right to ask for. anon

I am sorry to hear of the stress among your siblings regarding the division of your mom's estate. Consider whether the bad vibes are worth it. Having been there, I would rather the inheritance had been given to charity than have the damage it causes in the sibling relationships. Clearly, the death of a parent, can cause problems especially in the area of mistrust and unresolved issues. Do keep in mind that the executor is entitled by law to payment. You did not say whether the five other siblings participated in any way in the care or visitation of your mother or whether you thought your mother was well cared for. Certainly there is untold stress involved in being a caregiver. Yes, you are entitled to an accounting, but bottom line, I hope your mother had the best quality of life on her money and that the six siblings can come to a peaceful resolution supporting and caring for one another. Money isn't everything. Been there.

One way to look at the situation is...what did your sister give up to look after your mother for FOUR years. Would you have done it? Was your mother easy to care for or difficult? It is not easy being a care giver, and perhaps she felt that she deserved more than just an equal splitting of the estate in her own mind. Is there an emotional cost to your point? Is it worth bickering and fighting among family members? Or perhaps, can you ''let it go'' with the understanding that we accept our family members for both better or worse? Anon

Oh Boy, is your situation loaded. The short answer to your question is: leave it alone. Take it from someone who has been there. You seem really wrapped up in the dollar amount and keeping it ''fair.'' I have been in a battle like this with my brother since 1996, the year of my mom's death, and I can tell you, her resistance will not go away. My brother, like your sister, took care of my mother as well, and he was the executor of her estate. Lots of money went missing, and if I chose to insist on an exact accounting, I would be a miserable person. The truth is, it is not about money to your sister. The fact that she brings up her childhood and the years before your mom's death tells you that. She feels owed, and that debt is emotional, which is not going to be satisfied by your asking for an expenses list. The money of your mom's that she used for paying bills, rent, whatever, is a small price to pay, in my opinion, for her help in taking care of your mom. In truth, you got her cheap. Try paying for long-term in-home care. Besides, it's not like you didn't get any money! If you're looking for everything to be split exactly 4 or 5 ways or whatever the split is supposed to be, it's not going to happen. Please please please don't sue your sister. Is that small amount of money really worth it? My advice is to readjust your thinking and not get locked in a battle with your sister. No matter the outcome, you will lose. Think instead about the sacrifice your sister made and how lucky your mom was to be able to stay at home and not end up in a hospital. How much does that cost? I think it costs just about as much as you think is owed to you and your other siblings, plus a whole lot more. anon

I normally never give advice if it is simply my opinion, but I felt compelled to respond to your advice request.

If the information you stated is correct, I think you seriously need to do a reality check!

First off you make it sound like your mom is living a ''meager'' existence, yet she maintained a healthy savings & checking account, and obviously owned a home with good value.

Your sister and brother-in-law took care of your mother for 4 years. Do you have any idea the amount of work and patience it takes to care for an elderly loved one for that length of time. Your sister could have place your mother in a home, in which case (depending upon the state) all of her assets would have been used to pay for her care. You and your other siblings would have received nothing at the passing of your mother.

The monies unaccounted for is small change compared to the 4 years your sister dedicated to your mother. Your sister has every right to become angry when approached by your demands for an accurate accounting. If I was your sister, I'd give you an accurate accounting and then I'd charge you and your sibs for the 4 years I spent taking care of mom.

We have an elderly parent (85)living alone in Michigan, she doesn't want to leave her home and in someways is still very capable. It costs us over $2,000 a month to have someone come in and provide her with simple assistance on a daily basis. I'd be only too thrilled if my sister-in-law gave up her life for 4 years to go take care of mom!

You really need to examine the way in which you are viewing your sister, you should be thanking her instead of asking her to be accountable! Kate

I would really recommend that you let the money go and focus on your relationship with your sister. You've already received close to $90,000 and you are talking about a maximum of about $5,000 more that you could possibly get, if all the money is still there which it very well might not be. Is the fight to get that last bit of money worth your relationship with your sister? While what you are asking for sounds very reasonable, on the other hand there are clearly more than strictly financial issues involved. Caring for your mother was obviously very difficult, and even if you feel that your sister was adequately compensated by having her living expenses taken care of, she may feel she is still owed for that and possibly other issues before that. If you want to maintain a relationship with her, I think you will have to try to see things from her perspective or at least let her know that you are trying to do so. I hope you are able to reconcile and support each other in this difficult time for you both. Wishing you all the best

If your top priority is to have a good relationship with your sister again, then you need to drop it. I sounds like you're really not taking into consideration what your sister went through the last 4 years. Taking care of an aging/dying parent has to be one of the most difficult and emotionally jobs imaginable. Doesn't your sister deserve some compensation for this (both financial and emotional)? Plus, if you had paid for a full-time live-in nurse for four years (or a nursing home), the costs would have been well over $40,000. I daresay there wouldn't have been a penny left in your mothers estate.

My husband's family just went through a similar experience after their mother died. And now they don't talk to their eldest sister. It's almost as if she and her two kids don't exist anymore, and I find that sad. Yeah, she stole some stuff from the estate, even stole some of the mother's things out of her sister's purse when they were divvying up the goods. Her rationale was similar, she had gotten hit by a car as a child, and her mother took the entire settlement ($40,000) and spent it. To top it off she had a horrible relationship with her mother, and just before she died she altered her will so that my sister-in-law would only get $1,000. My sister-in-law felt, well here I am divorced and broke, her mother was awful to her and she was ''entitled''.

In addition, I know it does cost a lot to close an estate. Don't forget about taxes that must be paid, the costs of burial, etc. And it is a lot of work. My brother-in-law worked for one year to tie up all the loose ends, and I think legally they are allowed compensation for dealing with the details.

I just wonder if it's worth it to lose a sister over this. It's just money. And not even that much money. I guess since they have 8 kids total in the family they figured they could afford to lose one sister. But I think it is horribly sad, and I actually miss my sister-in-law who is my daughter's godmother. anon

I would address the issues your sister is concerned about (financial and others) and say how important it is to you to consider them as well as your needs and those of all sibs. Offer to help her do the accounting. If it does not work out amongst the 6 of you, perhaps mediation can help. A neutral common friend or relative can help as a mediator (I have played the role in my family) or you can get a professional mediator. Good luck! Anon

Based on the numbers, it sounds like after getting nearly $90K from your mothers estate you are now questioning a sum of less than $10K in addition to what you've recieved. Before pinning your sister down on this, maybe you could consider the following.

You may feel your sister lived at her mothers house for four years ''rent free''. Consider that your sister basically gave up 4 years of her life to provide care for your mom. That care allowed your Mom to live in her home with family, instead of paid caregivers.

Your sisters sacrifice saved your mother a great deal of money, allowed another 4 years appreciation on her home, and probably gave her great comfort. These things benefitted you, by giving you piece of mind knowing your mom was safe and loved, and freed you up to live your life.

It also benefitted you, as home prices increased a great deal over the last 6 years. Many seniors sell their home when their health declines, then use the cash to pay for assisted living with paid caregivers. This can easily run thousands per month over the course of 4 years, her assets would be sustantially less than they were when she died, particularly if she had sold her home prior to prices rising as they have and used the cash to pay for senior care.

The way your mother and sister handled it was a win-win, her assets (home and savings) were protected and she was in the care of people who loved her.

Unless your sister has a pattern of freeloading, malicious behavior, or if you have proof she squandered away your moms money, I would extend gratitude, not suspiscon and give her the benefit of the doubt. Whether or not you realize it, she made a huge sacrifice to help the family, and deserves your respect. Trying to see both sides

Mediation may be an answer; you get professional help without going to court. For mediation programs in the area, go to:

I also have another reaction which you may not want to hear. Why not let it go? It looks like you all got a lot of money, and without needing to help at all. How much is enough? And if you do get more, how about sending it to help the tsunami victims? Better yet, since all of you are getting quite a chunk of change, maybe you can reduce your anger and feel good by collectively sending a significant gift to Asia - people who are suffering. After all, your affluence and their poverty is merely an accident of birth. I'm quite serious; it could be a beautiful healing act for your family, and you did say that you also value good family relationships. They are indeed worth more than gold. (including our human family :-) For information and ways to make donations, go to: Wishing you well

How do I find out if I'm mentioned in my father's will?

Feb 2004

If you're mentioned in someone's will, how do you find out about it? My father died a few weeks ago. He's been married to his second wife for over 25 years. While we've maintained a good relationship with our father, my brothers and I have always had issues with his wife. We're assuming that if there is a will, she gets everything (they never had kids and she has no children). BUT if he was thinking of us, how long would it take for us to be contacted? (The obvious thing would be to ask his wife, but for many PAINFUL reasons we can't bring ourselves to!) Just wondering

You can ask your question on the estates message board of If your father had a will it should be probated and at that time you will probably get a notice. If your father had a living trust and the amount of his probate estate is below certain thresholds then you probably will not get notice from the probate court but you should get notice from the successor trustee of the trust. California has certain requirements for notification of legal heirs, those that would inherit if there was no will. What does this mean for you? Unless you want to discuss this with your step-mother you will have to wait and see if you get a notice. Alternatively, you (as an interested party) could bring a probate action for your father's estate. This will cost you some attorney's fees and likely could poison your tenous relationship with your step-mother. To fully understand this course of action consult an attorney. Good luck! anon

How to fairly divide up my grandmother's possessions

May 2003

I am one of four siblings and my mother has one sister. My 101 year old grandmother is going to die soon and her house is full of many valuable antiques, large and small. My aunt who is childless, is getting half of the house's contents and the rest will be divided among the four adult children (myself included). My aunt is the executor of the estate and has asked us to turn in a list of what we want from the house with the understanding that our request of the possessions in the house should not exceed one eighth of the total. She is a curmudgeon (very interested in controlling things), but ethical and is worried she will get enough out of the estate to retire on. There is an old appraisal of the assets of the estate, but she does not want us to see it as she wants us to decide based on what we can use and like, not on the financial value. She is determined, we take things for our own use, not for resale. She has spent the last 20 years looking after our grandmother while working full time. The estate is the house (easy to divide the proceeds) and the house's contents. One of the problems is that one child wants things that far exceed one eighth, one wants small very valuable things only and two children want furniture. There are also many things of interest in the house that are not valuable. I have suggested that we take turns, my aunt picks something then one of the grandchildren choose. The grandchildren decide their order by drawing straws. I also suggested we make an A list of extremely valuable things and a B list and choose from these lists according to our portion of the estate and the four of us negotiate among ourselves what we wanted. Both of these ideas were rejected, any suggestions on how to divide this estate in way that we all end up still speaking to each other when it is over and we have a reasonably fair distribution of the assets? Anonymous

Perhaps you can find a useful variation on something that worked well in my family. When my grandfather died there were just some small possessions for my mother & her sister to divide up. We laid out the stuff. I suggested that first one make a pile of what she wanted and another pile of what she didn't. Then the other sister could take anything from the ''don't want'' pile. The 2nd sister then removed anything from the first sister's ''want'' pile that she (second sister) didn't want and those things could go automotically to sister 1. That left a much smaller pile of items that both wanted, which was easier to cope with. mary

You say the deal is that your aunt gets half, and the remaining half is divided among you and your siblings. The problem seems to be that your aunt wants to control not only what half she gets, but what happens to the other half. Have her choose first what she wants to make up her half, and, assuming you four are OK with that, the four of you should be able to decide amongst yourselves who gets what from the remaining half - she shouldn't be able to control how that allocation happens. Then you can proceed with your eminently sensible plan of taking turns - each person chooses one item in turn until everything is gone. Or, hire a mediator. Split 5 ways, it should not be terribly expensive. Fran

This is a very loaded issue. Your aunt, no matter how curmudgeonly or controlling she is, should really get to run the show here. She is losing a parent...I don't care what anyone says, the grandchildren--and even more so since you are adults--don't feel the emotional impact of loss as dramatically as the child--and probably even more so in your aunt's case since she has been your grandmother's caregiver. What does your mother say about it? She should be the one to voice an opinion to her sister/your aunt here if she feels strongly about these issues. I think your aunt has shown a certain level of grace in asking you to submit lists. It really comes down to being graceful and supportive of your aunt. She is in for A LOT of work as the executor of the estate as well as coping with her grief. She has probably sacrificed a lot in her life in order to take care of your grandmother. Hopefully you, your siblings, and your mother have lent a hand and support to her throughout...being the sole caregiver for an elderly parent is very draining. Submit your lists and then accept what is given to you with gratitude and grace. (you are very lucky to get proceeds from the house!) If you don't get the items you are coveting, so be it ... move on with your life and hold dear to your grandmother's memory. You can choose not to let these issues cause division in your family by simply accepting what your aunt gives you with dignity. Holding onto your anger about what you didn't get is ultimately very destructive. anon

When my grandmother died, we had a somewhat similar situation. The estate went 50/50 to my aunt (who has two children) and my father (who has four children). My aunt was also the executor, and my father the more involved shild in final years' caregiving.

It was not easy, because you are dividing up things that bring back memories as well as things that have value. Also, since there were unequal numbers of grandkids in the two families, some of my siblings complained that my aunt got ''more'' than my dad. Nevertheless, we managed to get through it, and here are some things that helped.

My aunt did do an appraisal--it's a must for taxes, and it took some of the emotion OUT of the divide. My aunt and my father then split the things as close to 50/50 as possible. If any of the grandkids had come in with requests (there was a painting I used to dream about and wanted very much), that was taken into account. After the estate was divided thus, my siblings and I gathered at our parents house, and drew straws as to picking order. Then we spent a very surreal day splitting the stuff up. In many ways, we chose where we were in our lives; i had just bought a house, so I needed furnature. My brother had just gotten married, and his new wife chose lots of silver table-top stuff. My sister was an artist, so got lots of the good art.

In your case, I'd suggest that your aunt and your mother do the first round picks, with your special requests in mind, but mostly on their own according to value. Then you and your siblings will have a chance. In any case, perhaps you could put all of it aside for a little while until your grandmother has passed and then for a little while longer until you have a chance to grieve a little. Carolyn