Case Study: A mother preceded her husband in death and a year later her husband died. The father was an accountant who was very frugal about spending and saved his money. He died in a nursing home and left a Last Will and Testament. He and his wife had two daughters the oldest daughter did not visit her father while the nursing him, while the youngest daughter did. Before his death, the father told the youngest daughter that he had a Will in a safe deposit box at the bank and she and her sister should divide the estate as in the Will. The assets of the estate consisted of over $400,000 in various bank accounts, the free and clear residence, a pickup truck with no lien, and personal effects. There were no outstanding liabilities.
The eldest sister arrived on the scene after the father’s death and took control. By some means, she accessed the safe deposit box and secured the contents. Fourteen months later, the youngest sister asked her sibling if the Will was being probated. The eldest sister declined to answer any questions. The younger observed that her sister was showing wealth with a new car and talk of fixing up her home. The pickup truck was now being driven by the sister’s son. The youngest sister asked again about the Will, the money in the bank and the pickup and whether the Will was being probated. Again, the sister declined to answer. What should the younger sister do? It appears obvious that her sister is using money belonging to the estate of her father and not distributing the estate properly as per the Will.
A private investigator can help with this case by determining the status of the father’s home and the pickup truck. As for the bank account, the Private Investigator cannot access any bank records unless the younger daughter gets access to the bank accounts by asking the sister or the bank for the records. The records should be analyzed by a forensic accountant to follow the money trail. If the sister does not comply and is recalcitrant a probate attorney should be hired immediately by the younger sister and possibly initiate a lawsuit. The Will can only be contested during probate and there is a statute of limitation.
In these estate matters, it is very important to determine if a Will exists because the Will generally lays out a plan for the distribution of the assets (real and personal) of the decedent and establish an executor. With a valid Will, the probate process can move more smoothly. Texas has a process in probate court called the “independent administrator” which allows the court to recognize the executor with little court actions and intervention if all beneficiaries agree. Without a Will, the law of the State of Texas will determine the distribution of the estate’s assets.
In Texas within four years of the date of death of the decedent, the Will must be proven in court. If not, then the Will does not enter probate and the decedent’s property is distributed through the Texas law of intestacy. Intestacy laws provide a procedure for the distribution of property among surviving heirs in the absence of a valid Will. Under the intestacy laws, there are many complex rules for inheritance to be followed. Generally, the property will pass to spouses, children, or other family members. If no family members can be identified, the property will revert to the State of Texas.
An executor may be appointed through the Will or be court appointed, but if the decedent died without a Will (intestate) the court will appoint an estate administrator. The executor or administrator marshals the assets of the decedent and prepares an inventory, takes control of the property, pays off any liabilities, and distributes any remaining assets per the Will or state law.
There is no requirement that a Will or property go through probate, but if the decedent owned property that is not arranged specifically to avoid probate, there is no way for the beneficiaries to obtain legal ownership without it. There are some exceptions in other states.
If your sister, brother, aunt or uncle take over control of your parent’s estate and are not transparent about their activities you may consider hiring a probate attorney and Sage Investigations, LLC a leader in forensic accounting and financial investigations to help you. With over 40 years of experience following money, Sage uses proprietary technology (DIO) to help develop the full picture of the financial aspects of the fraud. Sage strives to help clients structure a better future for their families. Learn more about assisting your clients by contacting retired Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Edmond J. Martin, Chief Investigator at Sage Investigations, LLC. Email firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.sageinvestigations.com or call 512-659-3179.