January 18

How to handle unequal inheritance

Cortes Law Firm Oklahoma City Estate Planning Attorney

Mom said it was mine. 

Well, too bad.

No joke, friends between Christmas Day and New Year's. That's what 5, 6 days every day.

I got at least one phone call from a family member and they wanted to complain to me that their mother had said they got a share of her bank account, or they were supposed to get a equal share of her house. And one of their siblings had simply said, No, it's mine.

This is what happened in every single one of these cases. And that is why it is so important to make sure that if you do want things to be split up equally between your children, you need to have it in writing, either in your last will and testament, or make arrangements with your bank or financial institution, or have a revocable living trust centered estate plan in place.

How to handle unequal inheritance

Let me give you the scenario, and it's almost the exact scenario in every single case. Sometimes it was, Mom said. Sometimes it was, Dad said, but the scenario is exactly the same as mom gets older.

She finds it harder and harder, maybe to pay her bills or just keep up with all the mail that's coming in. So usually there's a child who lives close by to her, or maybe it's her favorite child, and she has a discussion with that child.

She says, I'm going to put you on my bank account so that you can start writing checks for me. If you'll come over maybe once a week and check the mail and make sure that all my bills are paid out of my account. You don't have to pay it out of your account, but you'll pay it out of my account because I'm going to go down to the bank.

You're going to go with me and we're going to put you on the signature card and we're going to make sure that we're joint tenants. And that way, you can pay all of my bills. And of course, the son or daughter says, Of course, mom, of course I will do that for you.

Then what happens at the next family get together. Maybe it's Thanksgiving. Maybe it's Christmas. Maybe it's Easter. Maybe it's a summer barbecue and at this family get together. She has all three of her children there, and she tells them, Look, I'm getting older and I have decided to put Joey here on my bank account so that he can help me on a weekly basis or a monthly basis to pay my bills and make sure that I don't get behind on anything.

I want you to know, and I've talked to Johnny that when I pass away whatever is in that bank account, he is going to split up equally between the three of you and everybody's like, OK, that sounds great, mom. We're glad that Joey's doing it.

They're probably actually relieved that Joey is doing it because the other two usually don't want any part of that. But that's a different story. Fast forward a few years and now mom has passed away. And Joey, remember he was put on as a joint tenant on mom's bank account.

When mom passes away, that bank account becomes 100% belonging to Joey. There's $100,000 in that bank account, 10,000 or $300,000. It doesn't matter the amount that money. 100% goes to Johnny because he's a joint tenant on that bank account.

The other two siblings, his brother and sister, say, Where's our third of the money? And Joey says, You know what? I'm not going to give it to you at that point. There's a family explosion.

Everybody is furious at Joey because mom said every single Christmas New Year's Easter summer barbecue. She said that that money was supposed to be split up equally between her three children, but the mistake that mother made was she put that bank account in joint tenancy with Joey.

At the time that she talked to Joey, maybe Joey, and absolutely 100% was going to do exactly what mom wanted to happen. What happens in a lot of these cases is Joey gets a new girlfriend. Joey gets married. Joey is in debt himself.

All of a sudden when he has this windfall and he realizes that 100% of that money belongs to him and his mother has already passed away. He does not honor her wishes. And guess what, guys?

He does not have to honor her wishes because mom did not put it in writing. All she did was say it at a family meeting, and who knows if that's what she really meant?

We don't know. And that's the problem. What is your evidence?

And really the biggest problem is that Mom did not put it in writing. She did not say, I have this bank account and I'm going to have it split between my three children.

What she could have done instead is instead of making Joey a joint tenant on the account, she could have just made him a signatory on the account where he could write checks on the account and maybe have access to the account, but he did not actually have any ownership in the account, and that's the mistake that a lot of people make.

If you're in this situation, talk to your bank, talk to your banker and see what is the best thing to do. Talk to your financial advisor and talk to your estate planning attorney so that when you pass away, Joey doesn't decide to take all of that money, which is legally all he is. And take a vacation, pay off his debt or give it to his girlfriend, who knows what Joey wants to do. But it doesn't matter because you have given him 100% of that money to the detriment of your other two children. So don't make that mistake.

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Cortes Law Firm

5801 Broadway Extension Hwy Suite 110

Oklahoma City, OK, 73118



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