Senior woman contemplating

A real-life problem when long-lost relatives show up.

A trustee and only beneficiary of her mother’s trust explained her difficulties when her long-lost sister suddenly showed up toward the end of her mother’s life, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel in the article “It’s never too early to disinherit children“.

After disappearing for decades, her sister visited with the mother a few times a year toward the end of the mother’s life. The sister has now retained an attorney to challenge the trust, accusing the woman of elder abuse and stating that the mother was insane.

What can this sister expect?

The goal of the formerly absent sister is to get the trust thrown out so that the estate will pass equally between the two sisters. She can accomplish this, if she is able to invalidate the trust and invalidate any prior wills the mother may have signed disinheriting one sister and leaving everything to the other sister.

She may not have a case with a lot of merit, but it is going to cost a lot to defend the estate plan. She may be hoping for a quick payoff.

Whether the case is successful may depend upon the circumstances surrounding the creation of the trust. In the best case, the mother would have gone to see the attorney by herself and created the trust with zero involvement of the sister who is the trustee. Even better would be if the trustee sister didn’t know a thing about the trust or the estate plan, until after it was completed.

Here’s the concern: if the mother created the trust only after she became dependent on the more involved sister, and if that sister selected the attorney, made the appointment and had a conversation with the attorney about how awful the other sister was, then it will be hard to prove that the trust was set up purely on the mother’s wishes.

It’s an odd lesson, but in truth, it’s never too early to take steps to disinherit children. If someone knows that they are going to create an estate plan that is going to make one or more people very unhappy, the sooner they document these wishes, the better. It should be done while the person is still living independently and does not require a lot of help from any family member.

Keeping the people who will benefit from the disinheritance out of the creation of the estate plan is best, since it further removes them from involvement and is better when they are accused of being manipulative.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on dealing with potential estate problems, including when long-lost relatives suddenly appear at the end of a relative’s life.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (June 2, 2019) “It’s never too early to disinherit children

For more information on elder law, retirement planning and estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.