The Moneyologist: My mother abandoned my brother and me—am I entitled to know what’s in her will?
I have somewhat of a strange tale. My mother abandoned my brother and I when we were very young, aged five and three respectively. We never heard or saw her again from that day to this. In January, I located her, some 46 years later, with the help of a private investigator. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the hugs and kisses reunion I had pictured all my life.
We never knew anything about her other than her name on our birth certificates. Her age was not correct. She lied about her age because she was two weeks shy of her 18th birthday and feared that her child would be taken away. My father wouldn’t speak of her and died a broken man in 1990 at the age of 45. Any information about her went to his grave with him.
My mother, however, started her new life and never told anyone in her family about us. She was very successful in her career as senior vice president of a major banking institution and is quite well off financially. I have met with her and she wants nothing to do with my brother or me, does not want to be called “mom” and has no interest in her grandchildren. She did not have other children after us.
My question is: Am I her next of kin? I am her first born and she knows we exist. I’m not sure if we are even mentioned in her will or not. Are we entitled to know if her will mentions her children or the distribution of her estate? I would like to know if we have any leg to stand on. She has led a life of lies and deceit, with alias names and lies to her family members. I recently found some of these relatives while researching my family tree. They were shocked to learn about our existence and very welcoming of us to the family.
My friends and family cannot believe she never spoke of us. During our brief conversation when we meet she mentioned that she may be marrying soon, when I pressed for answers she declined and ended our meeting. She sent me a text message asking me to forget about her and that I will receive instructions on what to do with her ashes.
I’d like to tell her what to do with her ashes.
I’m sorry it wasn’t the Lifetime movie family reunion you had hoped for. Or maybe it was the kind of scene that airs on Lifetime. It must have been a painful reunion, but it’s better to know than to wonder about her your whole life. I have received more letters about deadbeat dads than deadbeat moms who have given up all responsibility (fiscal and emotional) for their kids. And, in one case, I’ve even heard from children who want to refuse an inheritance from their abusive father.
If there was a claim for child support, the statute of limitations on that claim varies depending on your state. Some states, like California, have no statute of limitations. Others, like New York, have a 20-year statute of limitations. In Michigan, it’s 10 years. But you don’t mention child support in your letter. You are more concerned with what she will leave behind.
This brings me to your question: Are you entitled to know what’s in her will? In this case, the clue is in the question. You are not “entitled” to know what she intends to do with her estate — there’s no law that would force your mother to divulge whether you’re in the will. But I understand your anger and why this might interest you.
As I told this fellow who wanted to know what to do about his parents’ estate after they had turned their backs on him when he was a teenager, sometimes it’s better not to be named in a will if you are a legal heir. If she explicitly disinherited you or even left you $1, you’re out of luck.
If she doesn’t mention you? That’s a different story. States have laws about what percentage of an estate must go to children and spouse in the event the deceased parent leaves no will and, should your mother die without explicitly cutting you out of her will (assuming she makes one) you would have a strong case to challenge her will as a legal heir.
Do nothing. Say nothing. Move on. Focus on your own family. If and when your mother dies, then you should start making noise (and inquiries).
Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).
Would you like to sign up to an email alert when a new Moneyist column has been published? If so, click on this link.