Legal/Financial Dopers-Beneficiary Qs

My mother passed away a short while ago, leaving a decent sum of money in her own personal account. My brother and I want to make sure we get the money as opposed to our father who would possibly squander the money. Our mother always expressed this should be so-my father is a failure as a businessman but with that money he might try to start up another failing business.

Our mother did not have a will and our father has been somewhat vague about he is going to do. Our father is not a bad guy but our mother would have certainly wished for her children to recieve the money.

My questions are: What happens with that money and how do we go about claiming it? Is it possible for our father to get that money away from us? Do bank accounts have beneficiaries?

Please understand, it is difficult to look at the paperwork becuause our father is always home and he is still unnerved by our loss and doesn’t want to talk about details. My brother does have a copy of the death certificate, though.

IANAL etc. If your mother died intestate, the state in which she resided will have laws which will determine who inherits. If she and your father were married, he probably takes her entire estate. The bank account, however, may have a person designated as a POD, or Pay On Death. If that’s the case then that person takes the contents of the account (absent any encumberances such as whether the state in question is a marital or community property state). By showing the bank a copy of the death certificate you should be able to find out whether there is a POD on the account if not who the POD is.

You should discuss the specifics of your situation with a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction who specializes in probate and estate matters. A preliminary consultation should only run you a couple hundred dollars.

IANAL but it sounds as if you’re screwed. If your parents were married at the time of her death, the money’s probably going to go to him since she died without a will. Spouses are (usually) next in line, then children if no spouse is available. A judge has probably heard your story a million times and isn’t going to believe the “but Mom said she wanted us to have it” story. (Please understand I’m not saying you’re lying, I believe you.)

Uncle Sam will take a HUGE bite out of it before it even gets to your dad, though.

Only if the estate is in the several hundreds of thousands of dollars. The first (I think last year’s figure was) $725,000 (but someone please correct me if I’m wrong) is exempt from estate tax.

You need to consult a trusts and estates lawyer in your state. That said, I think that if the account was a joint account between your parents, then your dad is the owner of that account and there is nothing to probate. If it was not in both names, then it should go through probate and will be distributed in accordance with your state’s statutes–it might be that your dad gets half, you get one quarter and your brother gets the remaining one quarter.

You need to see a lawyer ASAP.

I forgot to add: you could try calling your probate court to find out what the intestacy laws are. If they tell you the surviving spouse takes everything then that answers your question.

cheesepickles, you need to get a lawyer, and don’t delay. The answer to your question depends on the type of account and the content of state law. In some states, if a person dies intestate, her entire estates immediately passes to her spouse. In other states, a percentage of the estate passes to her children and the bulk goes to the spouse. The type of account also matters; if the account was owned wholly by your mother it may be part of her estate; if it has a Pay On Death provision that provision may or may not be effective; and the account might be owned jointly by your parents or by them as a tenancy in the entirety, in which case it passed to your father at the moment of your mother’s death. You don’t know the answers to any of these questions, so you need to get a lawyer who can help you figure them out.


P.S. I’m sorry to hear about your mother.

I’d follow Cliffy.

But it is also perfectly legitimate to talk to your father, remind him that your mother wanted you to have the account, and ask him to sign the paperwork.

How this conversation is done is important. I’d think the fewer extraneous remarks (ie about business management) get made, the better, but you know your situation best.

If you genuinely care about your father, don’t forget that you do; that’s how problems get prevented.

Uncle Sam will not get even a nibble. There is an unlimited exclusion for property passing to a spouse. No inheritance tax is due at this time. When the spouse dies, that’s when Uncle Sam can satisfy his hunger - unless the spouse has remarried and left the wad to the new one.