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Oct. 20, 2019, 12:29 p.m. EDT

My stepmother hid my father’s will and bequeathed their home to her daughter — how can I claim my inheritance?

‘I know my father wanted to provide for her while she was living. I was told he wouldn’t let her sell the house while she was alive’

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Moneyist,

My dad wrote a will before he passed away, but my stepmother wouldn’t let us know anything about it. I know my father wanted to provide for her while she was living. I was told he wouldn’t let her sell the house while she was alive. She just passed away and we were told that she gave the house to her daughter. They lived in Florida. I know he left us kids something, but she kept that hidden.

Can you help?

CW

Dear CW,

I have received so many letters over the years from people who have had issues with stepmothers. They do get a hard time in Grimms’ Fairy Tales. One such stepparent refused to hand over a family’s heirlooms. In fact, the most popular column of last year featured a stepmother’s children who reportedly looted her late husband’s estate. It seems to be a sensitive subject for many people.

All wills must be filed with probate court, so your late stepmother did not have the power or the legal right to hide it from you. Most of this sort of skulduggery — if that is indeed what went on here — relies on other people’s inaction. In Florida, the custodian of a will must file it within 10 days of the person’s death or, if not, within a reasonable time after that person’s death. Any interested parties — those who are mentioned in the will or anyone who is deemed a legal heir — should also be notified within 30 days, according to UpChurch Law in Daytona Beach, Fla.

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Assuming your father died more than a few months ago, you have likely missed the statute for limitations for contesting his will. Given that your stepmother recently passed away, there may be room for you to make a claim on the estate.

There may be some loopholes that allow you to make a claim on the estate, especially if your stepmother acted unlawfully or if she was living in a home that was in her late husband’s name. It may be that your stepmother was given a life estate under which she could live in the home for the remainder of her life, but it goes to you and your siblings upon her death.

As for your story, there are so many missing pieces. Was there a will? If so, what did it say? It’s worth your while making inquiries. If your father left no will, or no will was filed at the time of his death, you and your siblings would receive half of the community property under Florida law , while your stepmother would receive the other half.

Start with an estate lawyer and make inquiries at the probate court in the county where your stepmother and father died. You may yet be in luck.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. 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: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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