The Moneyist: ‘She injected my dad with ketamine, enough to kill him.’ My father died in hospice care — and left almost everything to his nurse

Dear Moneyist, 

Shortly before my father’s death, I received a phone call from him saying, “I’m going to die now and I just called to say goodbye and I love you.” I argued with him and cried and he said, “No, I have made plans and it is all set. Please be wise with your inheritance.”

He hung up and I frantically tried calling him, and I also called the police. My father reassured them that all was well. The next morning, I received a call from his hospice nurse saying how sad she was to discover him suddenly deceased at 7 a.m. She said he had a cold, but was surprised that he had passed so quickly.

Something didn’t seem right, so I hopped on a plane and went out there to get answers. What I learned about the nurse shocked me: There was an eyewitness in the room at the time. He said that she had injected my dad with ketamine, enough to kill him. This person also said that my father had said goodbye to those around him earlier that day.

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I called the morgue and ordered the cremation postponed and an autopsy. The morgue told me it would cost $5,000. I did not have the money, and again called the police, trying to get an autopsy ordered while my dad’s body sat for nine days waiting, and I was denied at every corner until they cremated my dad.

I then found out that my dad’s will changed on the day he called me. Almost everything went to my dad’s nurse — even my dad’s life partner of 40 years got literally nothing. The nurse is now the trustee of the trust. Four months ago, she started doling out $300 per month to family members. My father left hundreds of thousands of dollars. She pays herself for her duties. In my father’s original will, his estate was to be split 50/50 between me and my brother.

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Also, the wording of the will had changed and it did not sound like my dad in the slightest. If you compared them side by side, you would never believe that the same person had written them. I have literally asked every listed lawyer in my county and most of them in the state, and they all sound optimistic over the phone. But every single one has refused to take on my case.

I am on my own. I just want her to give me my fair share and then I will be done with her, but the wording of the revised will gives her total power to dole out payments in minimal fashion and also includes an in terrorem clause, which says I lose my share if I take her to court and do not win. I need help. Of course, I have tried so many routes, even legal aid.

Also, she has been using trust funds to pay for her land taxes on several acres that my dad signed over to her a year before he died and, in the original trust, it states that those things are separate and not to be included in the trust. It has now been three years since my father’s passing. Can somebody help me? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Bereft Daughter

Dear Bereft,

This sounds like a traumatic ordeal. You were hit with so many unexpected developments, in addition to the grief you must have been feeling at the time, and I’m not surprised that they have left you feeling undone. You have made a valiant effort to uncover what happened to your father, and I commend you for that, especially under the circumstances.

You’re acting upon both firsthand information (the timing of the changes to your father’s will, the new provisions and his phone call) and secondhand information (what another staff member at the hospice told you at the time of your father’s death). The latter may or may not be correct, and you did the right thing by reporting it to the police at the time.

Following up on the police, who may have ordered their own autopsy, might have been a good call when your father died, but people who hold undue influence over an elderly, frail person with money are often counting on the chaos and confusion in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death to make their own tasks easier. You were doing the best you could.

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Ketamine is sometimes used in palliative care to treat depression and physical pain, particularly among cancer patients, and some studies have shown that it may be effective. But it is also described as a “dissociative anesthetic drug often used in veterinary medicine”; it has been known to cause paralysis in higher dosages and used as a “date-rape drug.”

The fact that your father changed his will while he was gravely ill in hospice care and left the lion’s share of his estate to his nurse are two red flags for any lawyer — or a police investigation into the cause of his death. They are alarming and worrying details that would get the attention of most probate-court judges. It is not, I suspect, so unusual a situation. And in terrorem clauses are often unenforceable.

However, the statute of limitations on wills and inheritance often expires in a matter of months, depending on what part of the country you live in. In New Jersey and Illinois, for example, it’s six months from the time the will enters probate. In California, it’s 120 days. No doubt, bad actors are relying on family members to act after this period of time expires.

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You may have more luck dealing with your father’s trust. The statute of limitations on a trust is sometimes longer than that of a will, and can be indefinite. “It is not uncommon for beneficiaries to take years to understand they are not getting what they should from the trustee,” according to Scott Grossman, a San Diego-based attorney. “This includes information about the trust, trust accountings and distributions.”

If there is a criminal investigation and prosecution based on witness testimony, this could deal a knockout punch to the nurse in question. This nurse in Anchorage, Alaska was sentenced to more than five years in prison for stealing more than $2 million from an elderly patient’s estate. The case has many different circumstances, but he was forced to pay restitution.

Ask the witness if he is willing to sign a testimony. Keep calling lawyers and ask about the statute of limitations on trustee-beneficiary relationships in your state. Enlist the help of your brother and other trusted friends and family members. You should not have to go through this alone. Report the timeline of events to the police. Contact your local health authority.

There may come a time when you let this go, but I do not believe that time has come yet.

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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).

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