A few months ago a reader messaged me asking why there were so few stories on Ehell about probate of Wills and inheritance. This person made the observation, which I agree with, that inheritances and probate of the Will seems to be far more fraught with drama than even weddings. I don’t have a reason why there have been so few story contributions over the years about nasty, divisive, contentious battles over the contents of Wills or how executors settle the estate or how families fight tooth and nail over the deceased’s possessions.
My own story of inheritance hell happened 7 years ago after the death of my father. I did not want to talk about it publicly for several years because the process of obtaining justice was long and physical/emotionally exhausting. Long story short, my eldest brother was the executor of my father’s estate who refused to be transparent about details of the probate, he financially exploited both vulnerable parents and he embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from the estate and perjured himself to cover the embezzlement. The case file currently residing in a state superior court is 4 inches thick so a few sentences doesn’t begin to cover every instance of the drama. Towards the end of our father’s life, my brother had attempted to have Dad’s Will changed to make him the sole heir, an action Dad’s attorney refused to do. Thwarted, he emailed me and youngest brother demanding that we sign over 100% of our shares of the estate immediately or else he would place Dad in an assisted living facility (something Dad did not want). For some reason this demand was not made to the second oldest brother who, upon hearing of it, promptly made airplane reservations with the intent to have his brother removed as Dad’s caretaker. Dad died 36 hours after the email demand and before my second brother could get there.
Another example of his exploitation was that he took our mother, who had been in an assisted living facility with dementia for years, to her lawyer claiming she wanted to change her Durable Power of Attorney to make him the attorney-in-fact (replacing my two other brothers) and change her Will to make him the sole inheritor. Her attorney wisely and ethically declined to make any changes and alerted my youngest brother, the long-time attorney-in-fact, of the attempt. Once he discovered that he could not exploit our mother, my eldest brother never visited her again in the following five years until her death despite living less than a mile from her. That action sealed my eldest brother’s fate within our extended family and every sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, even his own son, cut him completely from the family like a cancer. He’s so despised by some family members that his name is not said, he’s referred to as HWSNBN (He who shall not be named).
I was the person who discovered the embezzlement after I had our attorney subpoena our father’s and the estate’s bank account statements. At the trial, I was given the honor of being the last witness so as to deliver the coup de grace evidence. I sat there and, one by one, line by line, documented every single instance of how my brother had claimed XX dollar amount for expenses in the Probate Final Accounting (filed under penalty of perjury) whereas the bank statements told a different tale. The look on the attorney’s face was priceless. The judge had warned us to not engage in ad hominem statements yet faced with the overwhelming evidence that there was no legal rebuttal that could be made, my brother insisted that his lawyer make an ad hominem attack on me during the cross examination. We could see the lawyer whispering angrily to him and brother insisting. Lawyer did as he was paid to do. I had hired a very good attorney and he did a splendid job keeping us focused. We kept a straight poker face until out of sight of HWSNBN and then my second brother and the attorney started whooping with joy and high fiving while I was still emotionally reeling from the ad hominem dart thrown my way. They LOVED the ad hominem comment because it meant we WON! And win we did..big time. It was a total victory.
On reflection, one wonders what motivates someone to act this way. It wasn’t for a lack of money. Eldest brother received a double share of the estate per the Will and he was the sole survivor on several joint bank accounts and investment CDs. His inheritance was quadruple what the other 3 siblings received. So why the greed to have it all? What showed up repeatedly in the court documents he filed was his belief that he was the righteous son who was the only who deserved his father’s inheritance whereas his siblings were only grudgingly tolerated by our father. It’s classic narcissism. Dad’s handwritten letters to me told a much different story of a loving, forgiving, generous father.
While inheritance hell is not something I want to do again, there is a positive outcome other than the obvious justice in dispersing the estate as the deceased intended. The situation exposed my oldest brother as the lying, divisive element in the family over the past decades and as people began to realize this truth there were reconciliations, more in-depth talks, more expressions of love and more family unity than anytime prior to Dad’s death. Once the cancer had been cut from the family, the family became healthier and continues to this day. And despite the drama, I am the only family member to have very minimal contact with eldest brother who, in turn, wants nothing to do with what he views as his greedy, evil siblings.