Proving assets

Proving assets

Assets but no Estate: How can I protest the fact that my Dad's wife says he had no assets. Nothing was in his name, but he paid for everything and his wife will not pay me what my Dad left me in his will. My Dad had lots of money.


Your Dad's new wife might be lying to you to prevent you from getting his assets. However, she might be telling the truth, just not clearly. If your dad owned everything jointly with his new wife, then on his death everything would pass to her (by operate of law as a joint tenant). For example, if he had a bank or brokerage account owned (titled) as joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTWROS), pay on death to [then named his new wife] (POD), in trust for [then named his wife] (ITF), etc. he could have owned substantial assets but had no assets in his estate. That could be what his wife meant.

However, it is possible that something inappropriate occurred and you should hire a probate litigator in your state to help you figure it out. The litigator might hire a special type of accountant, called a forensic accountant, to evaluate bank and brokerage records, tax returns, etc.

  • It is possible that your late father's wife is simply lying and absconded with assets intended for you. If this occurred you would find assets that were in your father's name that she transferred following his death. However, unless she was named executor (or the accounts were joint, etc. as noted above), this would be difficult to do.
  • She might have had a power of attorney and used it while your father was alive to retitle assets to joint with herself. Most powers of attorney permit this. If your father had a will leaving a portion of his estate to you and she retitled assets to be joint with her it would undermine your father's will and intent and you may have a legal basis to unwind those changes.
  • She might have used a power of attorney to gift assets from your father to herself. Again, it will be a question of intent of what your father wanted.

There are strict time deadlines (statute of limitations) on many actions so you should proceed quickly if you are going to proceed.

You need more facts to make a determination of what happened. Pursuing legal remedies will be costly for everyone (especially you initially) and will create tremendous animosity with your father's ex wife. If it is at all possible for you to discuss your concerns and ask her to explain how you received nothing (did you get a copy of his current will) it would be quicker and cheaper. If you can see his most recent will, copies of the prior few years income tax returns, copy of the deed for his house and copies of brokerage and bank statements an estate planner can quickly help you understand what occurred.

Before your judge her decisions she may not have understood what happened. It may also be possible, however hurtful or unlikely, that your father intended the result and changed his mind after his will was written. If his wife will sit down with you and review the paperwork you may be able to resolve what happened, and if something needs to be corrected, to do so. You might want to have an accountant or estate attorney mediate that meeting.

Situations like you describe are not uncommon (see other questions on this web site). In some cases those receiving all the assets have voluntarily made gifts to those who didn't to address the potential inequities. While these gifts might have to be limited to the $12,000 annual gift exclusion to avoid negative tax implications ($12,000 is the most that you can gift someone in 2007, but the figure is inflation indexed) without a gift tax implication. So if you should have received say $100,000, your father's current wife could gift you $12,000/year until you do.

There are a host of tax and legal issues, not to mention the personal ones involved. Get a good probate litigator to guide you.

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