By Quentin Fottrell
My darling mother died in 2008 in Florida. Her will — in my opinion fake, but I can’t prove it — was signed weeks before her death under suspicious circumstances, and creates a trust.
That trust stipulates that her husband, my father, gets to use the income from her estate until his death, at which time her estate is to be distributed to her three children or their heirs. Unfortunately, it also named her husband executor.
My father is independently wealthy; my guess is he was worth $15 million in 2008. He doesn’t need a home, as he lives with his new and much younger wife in her home. We children are well aware that all of his money is going to her and her children, in Australia, and we agree we have no claim to it.
As soon as the funeral was over, my father took all of my mother’s investments, a CD worth $1 million and a mutual fund worth $300,000. They have vanished. He sold my mother’s Florida home quickly and pocketed $250,000.
Later, he sold her Illinois home and pocketed that — $500,000. He auctioned her possessions and raised over $100,000, and took that. There’s more, but I’ll drop it. His takings exceed $2 million. We do not get the earnings, so the number in 2008 is the number.
Counsel says that under Florida law no reading of the will is required, and next of kin do not have to be notified. What is missing is annual accounting to her beneficiaries of her estate’s net worth and income distribution, but we have no way to compel it, since the lawyer is compromised by representing my father.
Further, counsel says that no recovery can be made until the husband dies and his will is executed. My sister is dead and her two children will not participate. Nevertheless, my brother and I agree that we will offer them each one-sixth of anything we recover. Can we reimburse ourselves first? It is likely they will not respond. What do we do then?
Anyway, I have lost hope. My father is close to 90 and appears to be losing his cognitive abilities, but he still manipulates everyone. Is there any strategy that might manifest my mother’s will to benefit her children?
Seeking Justice and Lost Inheritance
The first thing you should seek is independent counsel.
There’s so much to unpack here, least of all your feelings about your father, and your suspicions about the legality of your mother’s will, and the way her trust has been managed or, indeed, mismanaged. One word of caution: Your belief that there was a fake will may not bear out.
The truth could be far more mundane than the willful ransacking of her estate outlined in your letter — an estate left in the hands of one person. I don’t want you chasing ghosts, and I don’t believe it’s healthy to chase dragons.
Florida law states that there is a three-month statute of limitations to contest a will, a time period that can only be extended if there was fraud, misrepresentations or misconduct. (You can read more about the Florida statute on that time limit here .)
It’s always important to act swiftly in such cases of uncertainty surrounding the legitimacy of a will or trust. You have — in all likelihood — allowed far too much time to pass since your mother’s death to take legal action now.
You have also far exceeded the statute of limitations for contesting a trust. There is also a different statute of limitations for contesting a trust — due to lack of mental capacity, for instance, or undue influence — and filing a lawsuit for breaching a trust. Those time periods can run from six months to four years.
You may have more luck holding your father to account for his management of the trust, assuming you and your siblings are qualified beneficiaries. Radio silence is not typically an option when managing a trust in Florida.
According to this Florida statute , the trustee should keep the beneficiaries reasonably informed. “Upon reasonable request, the trustee shall provide a qualified beneficiary with relevant information about the assets and liabilities of the trust and the particulars relating to administration,” it states.
The law firm Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun outlines the process for compelling a trustee to provide annual accounts and relevant details of the trust’s assets and liabilities. The trustee is obliged to give notice to the beneficiaries of the trust’s existence and the identity of the settlor/settlors, among other acts of transparency.
“When a trustee does not comply with the Florida Trust Code’s requirements they may be in breach,” the law firm says. “A trustee who is in breach of his or her duties as a trustee may be compelled by the court to account and/or provide information to a qualified beneficiary.”
Your mother could have left a separate trust for her children. It’s difficult to know her thinking. Perhaps she thought it best to leave her husband in charge of her estate. Or maybe she believed he would pass it on to her children.
This has dragged on for 15 years. Don’t allow it to usurp the next 15.
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More from Quentin Fottrell :
• My married sister is helping herself to our parents’ most treasured possessions. How do I stop her from plundering their home? • My mom had my grandfather sign a trust leaving millions of dollars to two grandkids, shunning everyone else • My brother’s soon-to-be ex-wife is embezzling money from their business. How do we find hidden accounts? • ‘Grandma recently passed away, leaving behind a 7-figure estate. Needless to say, things are getting messy’