My youngest sister persuaded my father to sell his home and buy her a property with two residences: a small town house for him and a nice four-bedroom house for her and her family. My father recently passed away. We discovered that our sister’s mother-in-law is an attorney. She talked my father into rewriting his living trust so that I and my other sister received $1 each.
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Our youngest sister got his property and money, all of his belongings as her attorney mother-in-law was also the notary. They cleaned up nicely. I don’t want anything, but something stinks here and, after the substandard treatment of my father when he was sick, we really don’t think she should have received everything. He passed away in August 2019.
It’s sad that people are so greedy. Is there anything I can do?
Richard in California
The $1 gift was designed to show that you and your other sister were not forgotten, but were purposefully disinherited. If you have witnesses attesting to your sister’s behavior when your father was alive, and doctors who can speak to your father’s health, with the help of a good estate lawyer, you may be able to build a strong case against your sister.
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Typically, you only have a limited amount of time to contest a will. This period of time could run from months to several years. In California, for example, you have 120 days to petition the court once probate is opened, although lawyers generally say that it’s better to contest a will before it’s deemed a valid will by the probate court.
According to Albertson & Davidson, a law firm with offices in California, your chances are acting within the statute of limitations are slim. If your sister waited several months before giving you notice of your $1 gift, you may be in luck. “Once the notice is mailed, the 120-day period begins. The notice provides specific information that must be given to the trust beneficiaries.”
“If a beneficiary is given trustee notice, but fails to file a trust contest within 120 days, then the beneficiary is forever barred from contesting the trust at any time in the future,” the firm says. “If, however, statutory notice under section 16061.7 is never given, then the statute of limitations to contest the trust remains open indefinitely.”
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You say you don’t need the money. Could your sister make a case that your father believed she needed help while you and your other sister did not? It seems like you would like to do something about this based on principle and — if your sister did act in a dastardly and/or unethical manner — I assume it’s not the first time she has gotten up to such shenanigans.
If there is still time to contest the trust, the real question for you is: Is it worth it?
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