Dear Len & Rosie,
I am a 60-year-old woman whose father died about five or six years ago. We weren’t on speaking terms for many years. I have been wondering if I perhaps have some claim to his estate. Is there some way to check on this? He died in Los Angeles. I didn’t like my father, but I would like some of his money. Any information I could get would be greatly appreciated.
When your father died, he left behind a will or a trust, or he died intestate (without a will). If he had a will or trust, you would not be entitled to any money or property at all unless you were specifically named as a beneficiary, or if the will or trust was written so generically as to grant property and money to “my children”.
Most professionally written wills and trusts have catch-all disinheritance language that excludes relatives and anyone else not specifically named as beneficiaries. So unless your father had a change of heart, it is unlikely you are entitled to a portion of the estate.
If you were named as a beneficiary in the will or trust, or if your father died intestate, then you were eligible for a portion of the estate. The personal representative of your father’s estate (either the executor if there was a will, or the administrator if there wasn’t) had a obligation to notify all heirs and interested parties of your father’s death - even family members who may have been disinherited. The executor must exercise diligence and make all reasonable attempts to locate potential heirs and only the judge may excuse a failure to serve the probate papers upon you by mail.
Even if you were named in his will, you have little chance for recovery. In order to sue the estate you will have to prove in court that the executor more or less intentionally failed to notify you. The court, which approved the probate proceedings after your father died, would be very unlikely to change its mind and order the other beneficiaries to cough up a share of their inheritance to give to you. Look at it from their perspective, “Five years ago, the court said we could have this money, and now they want it back?”
You should also keep in mind that your father may have had a trust that avoided probate altogether. You should check with the court clerk in Los Angeles County to see if there was a probate of your father’s estate. You could also check the chain of title to his former residence to see whether or not he ever owned his property within a trust. If he did, you should be able to determine the name of the trustee. Contact that person and ask for an explanation.
Remember that it’s almost certain that your father deliberately left nothing to you, given your estrangement. Keep this in mind when you decide how much of your personal effort, and money, you want to sink into this.
Len & Rosie
Dear Len & Rosie,