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The Moneyist: ‘She told my ex-wife that our visits were upsetting the family cats’: My sister stopped me from seeing our late father, and refuses to give me a copy of his will

Dear Quentin,

My mother passed away 10 years ago. My father passed away this past December. My sisters are living in my parents’ home. They refuse to provide me with a copy of the will.

My mother left me a list of items she wanted me to have, and I have asked for these. I told my sisters that they can have the houses — two houses! — and all the money. I just wanted the items that our mother promised me. They have stated that I will get nothing from the estate.

My older sister has lived in Boston for 45 years, until she came back home five years ago to take care of my elderly father, who was in his late 90s. Shortly after she returned home, my sister sent a letter to me stating she talked to our father and that neither I nor my children were welcome at my parents’ home anymore unless invited. She told my ex-wife that our visits were upsetting the family cats. (No kidding.)

My other sister never left home, and has been supported by the family her entire life. I am just looking for a way to obtain the art and items from my mother’s estate. Is there a way without going through a major legal battle? The estate is worth between $600,000 and $1 million.

Should I force probate?  What are my options?

Frustrated Brother

Dear Frustrated,

Don’t allow your sisters to bully you into submission. They have no right to sell or keep any items of your father’s estate until your father’s estate goes through probate — a public accounting of all of his assets, including his homes, bank accounts and personal possessions. If you roll over now, you will regret it for the rest of your life.

If there is a will, your late father’s attorney should have a copy. If the will says your sisters inherit your father’s entire estate — unlikely, given that they refuse to show you a copy — they should have no problem filing the will with the probate court. If not, your father’s estate will be divided among his three children.

With your mother already having predeceased your father, “the law of intestacy provides that each of the children (and the descendants of any predeceased children) would be entitled to a share of the father’s estate,” says Daniel S. Rubin, a partner atFarrell Fritz in New York City.

“If you roll over now, you will regret it for the rest of your life.”

This is relevant because you will be entitled to receive a citation in connection with the probate of your father’s will, he says. “If the will is voluntarily presented for probate, or absent a voluntary probate of the father’s will, the son can himself petition the Surrogate’s Court to compel production of the will,” Rubin adds.

Your mother’s list of items will not hold much muster in a court of law, unfortunately, so you will have to go through probate — where you receive what you are entitled to under intestacy laws or in accordance with your father’s last will and testament — in order to divide your father’s possessions.

If the will excludes you? To successfully contest it, you will need to prove undue influence (that would entail your father being threatened or pressured to exclude you), show a lack of testamentary capacity, or demonstrate that the will was in some way fraudulent or did not meet a legal standard in your state.

You may or may not get the exact belongings that you want, but by doing everything in your power to ensure you have your share of your parents’ estate, you will have ensured that they have raised at least one child who is intent on doing the right thing. And that is something equally precious.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• I’m 60 and a single mother. My daughter, 17, has a developmental disability. How do I make sure she’s taken care of after I’m gone?
• ‘We have an absolutely great relationship’: My live-in boyfriend gives me what he used to pay in rent. Should I give him a stake in my home?
• ‘I feel slighted’: My husband of 10 years stopped paying his salary into our joint account — and asked me to pay $900 toward our rent

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