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[scales of justice]Inside the Law column, San Antonio Express-News, February 29, 1996

Daughter: Mom Can't Do This! (Can She?)

© 1989-2004, Paul Premack

Dear Mr. Premack: This may be a bit of a twist on your regular letters, but my mother who is 73 just told me that she has named my children as heirs in her Will. My father died a few years ago, leaving her an estate of about $700,000. My first questions are: Don’t I have the right to my inheritance? Why can she skip over me like this? My next question deals with my children, who are in their early teens. Shouldn’t my mother be required to put the money into my care so that when the kids are older I can give it to them? She’s planning on putting it into the care of a bank! Please explain this to me. Does my mother need straightening out?. – A.V.

Your mother doesn’t need to be corrected, but I think you may need to be guided onto a straighter path. First, your mother has no obligation to name you as the heir in her Will. Second, you have no legal right to demand that she change her mind nor to try to interfere with her decisions.

True, if your mother had made no plans at all, then state law makes you her heir. But she has the absolute legal right to choose her heirs. If she has decided to skip over you in favor of your children, she is acting within her legal rights. A person can always override the state’s pattern of descent and distribution by making their own choice known through a Will or a Trust.

Your children, who she names as her heirs, are in their early teens. They may be too immature to directly inherit her estate. The situation cries out for a Trust to control and distribute the funds for your children until they reach a more suitable age.

Your mother is at her liberty, once again, to select the manager of that Trust. You feel that as her child you have the legal right to control the assets she’s leaving to your children – but you are mistaken. She, like many others before her, has selected a bank trust department instead.

Under these circumstances, a bank is an intelligent selection. They provide professional and independent management services, are reliable and will assure that the funds are not wasted. Your mother’s act provides a benefit to you as well: the trust fund may help pay college and other future expenses for your children. If the trust pays those expenses, you don’t have to set aside any of your own funds.

All of your mother’s plans indicate that there may be some deep troubles between you and her. Instead of pushing to receive an inheritance (or to control the money your kids will get) try healing your relationship with your mother. Forget about her Will and enjoy her company during the years you have left together.

Prior Column: Effect of Gifts to Spouse on Estate Taxes
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Disclaimer: This column answers a specific legal question offered by an individual in the South Texas area. The answer may or may not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat this column as specific legal advice that meets your individual needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own attorney. Also, please be aware that laws change. You should consult with your personal attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue.

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