Goodspeed: Children should follow the wishes of their parent’s will
QUESTION: My father passed away eight years ago at the age of 86. His second wife (my mother died 20 years ago) is 89, and still lives in my father’s house in Florida. She suffered a stroke a year ago and now has dementia. Before her stroke she told me in a letter that she had given her daughter, who is the executor of her will, instructions that the house and contents was to be divided between the two of us.
Since my stepmother’s stroke, my stepsister and her son have moved into the house to take care of her. My stepsister told me a while ago that her son wants to buy the house, but has said nothing about it since even when I ask.
I’m starting to feel uncomfortable about all this. I haven’t visited them since my father passed away, but this was his house and I think my stepmother’s wishes should be honored. I’m sure my father would want me to have half of his house as well.
Where do I stand legally in this situation? I’ve always had good relationships with my stepsister and stepmother.
ANSWER: First of all, children should remember that it is not up to them how their parents will dispose of their real estate, jewelry, heirlooms, money and other worldly possessions. Children should make sure their parents have up-to-date last wills, but the substance of those documents is up to the maker of the will.
Having said that, I am not sure what you can do in this situation until your stepmother passes. You said she had a stroke and now has dementia, so I am guessing she is not able to discuss her will with you or anyone else for that matter.
You also said your stepsister is the executor of the will. Accordingly, you will have to wait until your stepmother dies. If the will on file with the court is different from what your stepmother told you, you have the right to try and challenge the validity of the will.
You should retain a lawyer in the state where probate takes place. If you have something in writing from your stepmother, a dated letter, for example, that outlines her wishes for the house, that would be helpful.
Be aware, however, that your stepmother has the right to change her mind.
Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and out of Darkness.” Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.