Sibling squabble: Divvying up Mom's estate
A reader's mother plans to divide her estate equally among three children, but one son is tapping the estate now.
NEW YORK (Money) -- Question: My mother has divided her estate equally between her three children. The problem is my brother has "borrowed" several times against his future share, but nobody's written anything down, which seems to be okay with Mom.
I know it's her money, but don't my sister and I have any rights here? We feel like we're going to be cheated when she dies and there's no record of the money our brother owes her.
Answer: To cut to the chase: Is it your mother's intention that the money she's been giving your brother counts against his share of her estate, or has it been a de facto gift?
If she believes the money is to be repaid - and there's no way of knowing unless you ask her directly - then what's going on is terribly unfair to you and your sister.
You should immediately start working with your mother and - if he's willing - your brother to prepare a list of the loans she's made to him (checkbooks and bank statements will help). Your mom also needs to make sure her will includes language that lays out how the outstanding loans are to be treated.
If your mom views the money as a gift, though, that changes everything. As you say, it's your mother's money, which means it's hers to do with as she likes. While there's nothing wrong with telling your mother you're troubled by what she's doing - and nothing wrong with having a sit-down with your brother on this point, either - you don't have the right to tell her what to do.
If these conversations leave you unsatisfied, though, remember that you and your sister can always ask for "loans" as well.
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