Welcome to Taking Stock, a space where we can take a deep breath and try to figure out what the COVID-19 economy really means for our finances. Every month, personal finance expert Paco de Leon will answer your most difficult, emotionally charged questions about money. This last two years have forced many of us to reprioritize our finances, and there’s no clear road map for getting through the pandemic yet — but Taking Stock is here to help us figure it out together.
Last time, we talked about inheritances — both planned and unexpected. This week, we heard from Refinery29 readers on their experiences regarding wills and inheritances, and what they did about them.
Sara, 39 — Nevada
When Sara's aunt died, she was left $20,000 worth in paintings. Her dad was supposed to look after them until she was able to retrieve them in Michigan, but he ended up stealing them from her. "He had a long history of substance abuse and we did not have a good relationship my whole adult life," she tells Refinery29. "When he died eight years later, I was forced as his next of kin to take responsibility for his cremation, business rent, and obtain the death certificate for his ex-wife. This was two years ago and I still have not been reimbursed."
After he died, Sara's father's will was released to her. "He said in the will [that] I was not his daughter and if I had kids, those weren't his grandkids," she says. "He completely disowned me. When I was able to go into his house to pick out a few things, I found the majority of the paintings. He had thrown out all his previous art and replaced it all with the paintings he stole from me, solidifying the idea that he never had any intentions of correcting when he had done."
"After this and seeing my dad's ex-wife completely botch taking care of his estate, I drew up a will," she says. "I'm a small business owner like he was, and my business is a lot more successful than his was, so I knew I needed to spell this all out for the people taking care of my assets when I die."
Carmen, 38 — New Jersey
Carmen was the executor for both of her late parents' wills. "Because I was my parents' only child, I knew I would inherit everything my mother had," she tells Refinery29. "In my father's will, he left the bulk of his money to me, and gave a generous amount to one of my nieces and to my oldest half-brother."
Her parents also left Carmen her childhood home, where she returned to live briefly. "I've poured nearly $40,000 in upgrades into it in the last two years," she says. "Ultimately, my hope is to rent it out for profit. It's not more trouble than it's worth per se, it's just more time-consuming — and expensive — than I had imagined."
This experience influenced Carmen to set up her own will. "I was 37 at the time, and because I don't yet have children or a husband, I included extended family, foundations, friends, and my ex-boyfriend in it," she says.
Brene, 32 — Washington, D.C.
Brene was supposed to inherit her late grandmother's jewelry collection after she passed, but distant cousins ended up getting most of it. "Unfortunately, I didn't receive the total collection because sometimes people take advantage when someone passes and seize the opportunity to literally and figurative 'grab' what they want," she tells Refinery29. "I was younger, maybe about 19. My mother was the executor of the estate, she didn't have it in her to pursue all the jewelry of my grandmother."
Even though Brene did not inherit what she was promised, she does not blame her mother for it because of the amount of stress her mother was under after her grandmother's death. "The jewelry that I hadn't received may have totaled around $5,000," she says. "I still received a few pieces and I wear one ring everyday."
When Brene's grandfather passed away a few years later, she also "sort of" inherited one of his properties. "That was not necessarily in my grandparents' will, but after a few family discussions, my mother, aunt, and uncle decided that since I was living in the home with my grandfather at the time that I would get first option to have the home," she says. "Now, the home was not without a price.. I essentially had to buy the family home from the reverse mortgage company after he passed," she says.
Larissa, 37 — South Dakota
"The original attorney that set up my father's trust didn't fund any of it," Larissa tells Refinery29. (Funding a trust is when one transfers their assets into the trust — a trust has to be fully funded to for the trustee to begin managing the assets). Instead, Larissa and her family had to go through probate, which is legal process where a will is reviewed to determine whether or not it's valid.
In her father's will, he'd stated he wanted property to be moved into his trust, and in his trust he specified who he wanted to receive to inherit his property. "Because of the poor setup of the trust, we are unable to keep the trust for any long-term timeframe, which is how he originally intended," Larissa says. "Additionally, the attorney that set up the trust requested we pay her $28,000 to complete the process after he passed away."
Instead, she found two new attorneys to help her deal with the legal process. "There were many legal bumps in the road that shouldn't have been there," Larissa says.