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The Moneyist: ‘When my mom dies, I want complete control of her estate’: I have not spoken to my mother in 20 years, but she owes me for the hell she put me through

Dear Quentin,

My mother is close to passing. We have not spoken in over 20 years because we don’t get along. We both live in Florida. Since my brother and dad have both passed, I am the only direct remaining family member. My cousin is the only one my mother still talks to in our family. 

Even though I don’t speak to my mother, I previously told my cousin that if she needed me, I would be there for her. However, that changed when my brother passed away from cancer, and no one told me until the last few days of his life. Not one person put a phone up to his ear so I could speak to him. My mother poisoned his mind.  

She relies on my cousin to do repairs on her home. When my mom dies, I want complete control of her estate. She owes me for the hell she put me through my entire life. I do not want it to go to my cousin, who is stepping in during her twilight hours. Am I entitled to her entire estate, as the last living direct family member? 

Estranged Daughter 

Dear Estranged,

If your mother dies without a will, her descendants will inherit her estate. As you are her only surviving child, her estate would go to you. Cousins and even stepchildren are not considered beneficiaries. But given the state of your relationship with your mother, it’s possible — perhaps even likely — she will write a will disinheriting you.

She has no legal — or moral — obligation to leave you anything in her will. Given that your cousin has been there for her in the final years of her life, it’s possible that she could remember your cousin in her will. Your mother could leave her estate to the dogs and cats home; that is her right, regardless of your history.

Under Florida law, a parent cannot completely disinherit a minor child. Homestead laws in that state protect the family home for minor children and the deceased’s spouse, thereby preventing them from becoming homeless. However, everything changes when that child turns 18. They’re legally an adult, and they’re on their own.

Legal experts advise that people who wish to disinherit a child mention that child in their will by name and specifically say they do not wish to leave them any assets. Otherwise, it could give the disinherited child the opportunity to argue that they were omitted and/or forgotten from the will in error. 

“There is a myth that says you should leave just $1 to an estranged child,” according to the Karp Law Firm. “That is bad advice! Beneficiaries have certain automatic legal rights in the estate administration process.” A bequest of even $1 could give a disgruntled child the opportunity to create roadblocks and cause delays, the firm adds.

I’m sorry your relationship with your mother has deteriorated to this point. It’s difficult to maintain healthy relationships with other family members under such circumstances. In addition to what they could have done differently, I urge you to ask yourself what you could have done differently too.

That’s not to say your mother should leave her estate to you. And that’s not to say she should disinherit you either. I’m merely outlining the possibilities so you are ready for them, and so you may more readily accept them. The most bitter inheritance of all would be to hang onto one that did not come your way.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• ‘I’ve felt like an outsider my whole life’: My father died without a will, leaving behind my stepmother and her 4 children. Do I have any rights to his estate?
• ‘He was infatuated with her’: My brother had a drinking problem and took his own life. He left $6 million to his former girlfriend who used to buy him alcohol
• She had a will, but it was null and void’: My friend and her sister are fighting over their mother’s life-insurance policy and bank account. Who should win out?

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