Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Inheritance Drama

I was just blown away by a story a friend of mine told me. Her aunt died of cancer a few months ago. The memorial service held a little while later was an interesting event that brought together a diverse group of family and friends, many of whom had never met each other before. The aunt, who I'll call Donna, was an odd character, perhaps a bit bipolar, so she went through phases where she was moody and didn't keep in touch with people, and those who cared about her were often forced to do all the reaching out themselves if they wanted o keep in touch with her. 

The cast of characters in her life included one sister named Michelle, Donna's step-children, and a good friend named Fred. When Donna's husband died, she was left fairly well-off and didn't have to work for a living, but she didn't know anything about managing her own finances, so Fred, who is an accountant, helped her with all that, and was the executor of her will. Fred had met Donna through his wife, who was a good friend of hers.  
Donna died of cancer, and in the last years of her life, her sister, with whom she hadn't been very close when they were younger, came to stay with her frequently and helped her get through her chemo treatments. Donna's step-children, who had young families of their own, drifted out of touch and didn't even know Donna was sick until it was too late to help much. In Donna's last days, Fred told my friend that he didn't think Donna's step children should be told, and though they came to her bedside immediately when they heard she was dying, he thought they didn't care about her and didn't think they should even be invited to her memorial. But in the end, they did attend, and each read a reminiscence about Donna that was obviously heartfelt and sincere. 
Donna left behind an apartment full of clutter. There were a few heirlooms that by family tradition were supposed to go to her oldest stepson. There was some anxiety that Donna might have sold them, but they were found and passed along to him. Donna's sister Michelle coordinated cleaning out the apartment, giving various personal items to some of Donna's friends (though nothing to my friend her niece, which is sad, as she'd been fond of Donna and more attentive to her during her illness than a lot of other people had been. ) Michelle had to travel back and forth to New York several times to deal with all the mess in the apartment and prepare it for being sold. But by a few months after Donna's death, it was all emptied out and ready. 

And that brings us up to now, when the shocking thing happens: my friend finds out that Donna's will had left her apartment entirely to her friend Fred, not her sister Michelle! She is still trying to find out all the details but it sounds like Michelle got pretty much nothing, and the step-children didn't either. And that apartment is worth at least a couple million dollars. 

The whole thing seems fishy. Did Fred trick Donna into changing her will? Did he try to encourage the alienation from her step-children? Why wouldn't Donna have wanted Michelle to get at least some of that money? I was also surprised that Donna's deceased husband hadn't dealt with his own estate in a way that gave Donna the right to live in the apartment during her lifetime but left it to his own children after her death, since he and Donna had no kids of their own. Who knows what the facts are behind all this, as what I am telling is just second hand hearsay. But it fascinates me nonetheless...

5 comments:

Stephanie said...

Wow, that is horrible! It's Donna's right to do anything she wants with her money, but it does seem a little fishy...

AlisueG said...

It does seem pretty shady but it is what it is. My mom always expressed that gifts will be given to her children while she is alive and we knew from an early age that we will not be receiving things from her after she passes. As a young kid, that hurt especially as all the good tv shows were full of awesome things being passed along after character funerals. But now in my 30s, I can see that most people live and die with no rhyme or reason to their financial estates, which can result in so much confusion and hurt among family and friends. It's unfortunate that Donna did not discuss her intentions and hand out possessions among her fam/friends during her life but it sounds like she lived as she died - keeping the people guessing.

Single Ma said...

"When Donna's husband died, she was left fairly well-off and didn't have to work for a living, but she didn't know anything about managing her own finances, so Fred, who is an accountant, helped her with all that, and was the executor of her will."

That sentence made my spidey senses stand at attention. If Donna left everything to Fred, something tells me Fred was more than a "friend" who was hired to "manage her money." *ahem* I hope Michelle didn't care for her sister with an expectation of payment upon death. If so, poor thing. Donna probably prepared that will when she was estranged from family and long before the cancer took over. However, if I were one of the stepchildren, I'd contest it on GP - especially for the apartment. It's really their father's money and Fred is just a lucky SOB who provided a "personal service" to a lonely widow.

Anonymous said...

The fact that he didn't think her step-children should be told about her illness is a red flag for sure. That is not the way a normal person with no motives thinks.

This kind of thing (if it was a shady deal) happens more often than most people realize.

Anonymous said...

I usually share your POV aabout things, but here I think you're dead wrong. First, Donna owns the apartment as much as her husband, assuming a normal length marriage. Second, her step kids don't sound like much of a family to her, why does she or her husband owe them anything more than the 18 years of constant care and attention, probably including day care, tutors, soccer mom duties, braces, and college tuition? Third, you make it sound like Donna was impossible, but then minimize the efforts of Fred and wife to stay on good terms with her. it is scuzzy for them to let Michelle clear the apartment / should pay her for those months of work, but otherwise who cares? What if Donna had willed the money to Greenpeace or the opera, that would be acceptable? What if this accountant wills the money to charity after his death?