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Nov. 13, 2019, 8:47 a.m. EST

While going through my late sister’s belongings, I discovered she stole my inheritance and swindled our mother

‘While my sister’s husband feels bad for me, he will not compensate me for my loss’

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Moneyist,

While helping my brother-in-law clean and organize his home two years after my sister passed away I found documents among her things belonging to our late mother. My sister, who was her executor, had always said that our mother left both of her houses to all four of her children, but I found that she had, in fact, left the home I was living in to me alone.

My sister owed her estate $155,000, an amount significantly smaller than what she had told us. Since she stole over $100,000 from me can I still sue her estate? While my brother-in-law feels bad for me, he will not compensate me for my loss. My mother and myself lived in Florida while my sister resided in Mississippi.

Shocked and disappointed

Dear Shocked,

What a horrible thing to discover. In the years I have spent writing this column, I have heard some super-shady shenanigans, sordid secrets and skillful skulduggery, but it never gets easy to read about another person’s deception. It’s even harder to live through it. It makes it all the worse when that person has passed away and the misdeeds in question took so much careful planning and pretence. It always hurts, but closure is far more difficult,

The statute of limitations for suing a person’s estate vary by state and can also depend on the particular reason for taking a case. It seems you have powerful evidence that your sister acted in an unlawful manner. Given the large sum of money involved, you may be able to hire a lawyer in the state of Florida who would be prepared to take your case on and agree to a payment out of any settlement. That all depends, of course, on whether there is enough in the estate to sue.

Don’t miss: I was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer in April — should I tell my family how I intend to distribute my estate?

But you may be in luck. In this case, there’s a high chance that the statute of limitations is activated from the date of harm — that is, the moment you discovered the deception. This swings the pendulum of justice back in your favor. Your sister hid the truth from you for years, so you had no opportunity to act until now. The clock, however, has now started ticking, so it’s time to take action, make calls, and compile all your documents and evidence.

Probably the most startling case was that of Axton Betz-Hamilton, who won a national award for her research on child identity theft. Her mother and father showed up at the ceremony. They were even photographed together. Betz-Hamilton spent years battling threatening letters and phone calls from collection agencies, and a credit score that had sunk to 308 even signing up for electricity problematic. The culprit? Her own mother. She too discovered the truth after her death.

Please stay in touch and let me know how you fare.

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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