The Moneyist: My stepmother stole money owed to me and won’t tell me if my late father made a will

Dear Moneyist,

My father was married to his wife for 22 years. He died in March. I recently found out he left a house in my name. My stepmother has not mentioned the house to me at all. I don’t know if he has a will and nor do I know how to go about finding out. He also has properties in his name only, although she has properties as well. I believe she has stolen money owed to me. How can I go about fighting for my father’s things? Do I have a fighting chance? I am his first born.

Daughter in Michigan

Dear Daughter,

It’s not a question of you having a fighting chance. This isn’t a battle of wills or a clash of personalities or an opportunity for anyone — your stepmother, included — to settle old scores. This may be a stressful and emotional situation, but this is a legal issue and your stepmother is obliged to follow the rule of the law. Hiring an attorney to help you may be worth it depending on the size of your father’s estate. Any money or belongings taken from your father’s estate should be returned. You need to gather the relevant facts about what is owed to you.

Also see: My brother stole my $110,000 inheritance by altering our mother’s will

If the house is in your name, it’s yours. If your father died intestate — without a will — you will also likely inherit a portion of your father’s estate. The law varies from state to state, but in Michigan your stepmother would receive the first $100,000 of your father’s estate. (You mother would inherit the first $150,000 of your father’s estate if they were still married.) After that, your stepmother would receive half of the estate and your father’s direct heirs (you and your siblings) will receive the other half. The probate court will distribute property that is not jointly owned by your stepmother and father.

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All beneficiaries are entitled to receive a copy of the will. File a petition with the county court to see if there was a will filed. In Michigan the executor or administrator of an estate is known as a “personal representative.” Beneficiaries and heirs must be notified by the personal representative. According to the Michigan Legislature, “A personal representative is a fiduciary who shall observe the standard of care applicable to a trustee …The personal representative shall keep each presumptive distributee informed of the estate settlement.”

Also see: My wife and I want to have a second child — is this a good time to buy a new house?

Recommended: After my father died, my brother has been pressuring me to lend him money

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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