My favorite brother passed away suddenly in 2007 at the age of 51 and he didn’t leave a will. Our oldest brother was put in charge of his estate.
When my brother died, at the same time my husband had an accident and was critically injured, then diagnosed with cancer. I had two young children and only one income, and I was not only taking care of my husband but also my children and working. We almost lost everything.
I recently found out that when my brother died, our other brother cut me out of my share of the estate by lying.
When he took over the estate he would send me certified letters about his progress, then all communication stopped.
Recently, I found out that he told the courts in my brother’s deceased state of Georgia that he hadn’t heard from me in years, and had no way of getting in touch with me. He went as far as to place an ad in a local Georgia newspaper pretending to try and look for me.
I’m in Ohio, and he’s in Pennsylvania. He had my phone number, address, workplace and also Facebook, and we are both in touch with our cousins.
He lied to the courts. Is there anything I can do about this such a long time after my brother died?
I Do Not Think It Would Be Cost Effective to Pursue Anything
Erik Broel is the founder and CEO of Georgia Probate Law Group which focuses exclusively on helping families after a loved one passes away.
I am sorry to hear about the situation in your family. Unfortunately, disputes and misdeeds in these situations are not uncommon.
When a person passes away, someone often petitions the court to be appointed as Administrator or Executor. In that Petition, the petitioner provides the court with contact information for the heirs. The court is responsible for sending out a notice to all heirs. When the petitioner notifies the court that he or she does not have information for an heir, there is a process that can result in posting an ad in the newspaper as a last resort.
While it sounds like there were certainly issues with how the situation was handled, I do not think it would be cost effective to pursue anything due to the amount of time that has passed since the events in 2007. While it sounds like your brother may have committed a fraud upon the court, it is very likely that the statute of limitations for any legal action has passed.
In addition, there is an unfortunate practical reality as well—even if a legal action was permitted, it is often difficult to collect assets when so much time has passed. Whatever was in the estate in 2007 has likely been sold or spent in the intervening years. So, you could find yourself spending money to pursue something where your best case scenario is that you wind up with a piece of paper saying you won, but without any ability to collect what you should have received in 2007.
I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But, better to know now than after having thrown good money after bad.
It May Be Helpful to Understand Your Elder Brother’s Motives
Dr. Chloe Carmichael is a clinical psychologist and author. Her approach is goal-oriented and emphasizes reaching our fullest potential through a strengths-based approach.
Thank you for writing, and I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds like a heartbreaking situation on many levels.
Firstly, I would recommend consulting an attorney to understand your rights. Self-advocacy is an important part of mental health, and staying informed about our rights is essential to advocate properly.
If there is no legal remedy or if you don’t wish to pursue one, you might want to consider which aspect of this situation you want to prioritize as you take action on a personal level, for example, if having a few sentimental objects of your late brother’s would mean a great deal to you, you could postpone addressing the conflict with him till you have at least been able to build enough rapport to hopefully persuade him to give you a few meaningful items. In this scenario, you would avoid saying anything critical about the way he handled the situation, simply express that you understand those were his choices to make and you were just wondering/hoping there might be some way to have a couple small tokens.
Depending on your relationship with him, it’s quite possible you may want to express how hurt and angry you are over his behavior, but since that conversation could potentially make him defensive and harden his position, it might be wise to be thoughtful about the timing of that conversation (ie getting your sentimental objects first if that’s a priority).
Either way, it may be helpful to understand your elder brother’s motives, sometimes grief can lead people to behave irrationally. Was he greedy for money? Was there some personal grudge in the background driving his behavior? None of this excuses his actions, but a compassionate and sincere effort on your part to understand his actions might actually disarm him and cause him to become more reflective as well, potentially leading to change. Even though you live in different states, it might be helpful to tell him you’d like to visit in person to reconnect and see if you can better understand each other—though phone or video calls are certainly options as well.
Given how vulnerable you are in this situation, it might help to invite a mutual friend or family member to join when you approach your elder brother. This might increase your own sense of security in a stressful situation while also potentially stimulating your elder brother’s sense of accountability. The sad truth is that it’s easier to abuse someone in isolation rather than when we know our community is watching. I don’t know the extent of your relationship with your elder brother or how he might respond to attempts at repairing things, and I hope the situation improves—but if necessary, remember you are under no obligation to continue a relationship with someone who brings nothing but hurt into your life, though hopefully that will not be the case in your situation.
Thank you again for writing Peggy. I’m sending my deepest wishes for a positive resolution.