The Moneyist: My stepmother’s sons took over my late father’s home and sold our belongings

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Dear Moneyist,

My father remarried when I was just a year old. I was the youngest of his three children and he married a widow with three sons, all older than us. My biological brother lived with my dad and stepmother from age 11 onwards. My sister and I lived with our mom.

Our dad passed away in March 2014 and left no will. My sister and I received nothing after his passing, nor did we ask because his wife was still living. She passed away in 2017. Again, there was no will.

‘I only asked for two things: A collection of elephants that my grandmother had and promised me and a few pictures.’

Brokenhearted in Ohio

My stepbrothers never even notified us of her death. We were not mentioned in her obituary, and my two stepbrothers deleted me from Facebook FB, +0.80%  without a word or explanation. It was only when I found out about her death months later that I put two and two together.

My dad and stepmother owned a business which the boys sold right after her death. Again, there was no will. They pocketed all the money. I only asked for two things: A collection of elephants that my paternal grandmother had and promised me, and a few pictures. I received nothing, nor did my older sister.

Don’t miss: My wife wants her name on my house, bank and retirement accounts—or else we’re through

I recently found out that my biological brother is cleaning out the house, taking everything without allowing my sister and I anything. My stepbrothers are keeping the house (or selling it, I don’t know) and all my dad’s carpentry machines (he had a huge shop). They’ve taken the automobiles and all his belongings.

Do I have any rights to these things? All I wanted were the elephants and some pictures, but knowing that my own brother betrayed me, I am out to collect on whatever I can. It’s my understanding that everything in the house that belonged to them should have gone into probate. Is it legal what they’ve done?

Brokenhearted in Ohio

Dear Newlywed,

Dear Brokenhearted,

You have the right to your father’s belongings. Or, more accurately, you had the right.

The time to act was when your father died. You, as his daughter, were one of his legal heirs. His stepchildren were not. In Ohio, an estate is divided between the deceased person’s spouse and biological/adopted children. This does not extend to stepchildren. As your father died without a will, under Ohio law your stepmother should have inherited the first $20,000, plus a portion of the balance. The rest should have been divided between you and your siblings.

Whose name is on the deeds of your father’s business and home? Can you prove that your siblings willfully set out to defraud you?

The Moneyist

However, there are strict statutes of limitation in Ohio. You must contest a will within three months of it being filed. An estate lawyer in Ohio can give you more options about how to proceed given that there is no will. There are so many questions that remain unanswered: Whose name is on the deeds of your father’s business and home? Can you prove that your siblings willfully set out to defraud you? These questions are all worth asking.

Also see: My ex-wife stopped payments on our home and racked up credit-card debt in my name

The fact that your stepbrothers promptly deleted you from Facebook suggests some intention to keep this process private and, I presume, they aim to complete it as soon as possible. You would have had a far stronger hand had you acted in the months after your father’s death. For your own peace of mind, however, I suggest you talk to an estate lawyer about filing a petition with the probate court to put a halt to these sales and, at the very least, exhaust your options.

It may be that they haven’t taken any legal action with the house. Start the process today.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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