My brother and sister insist I share our mother’s $440K estate with their 8 children, or they’ll cut off all contact. What should I do?

Dear Quentin,

We are three siblings: my brother, my sister and I. Our mom passed away from a stroke in Arizona. Her estate went to probate court as she had no will. We were all on the same page and had no issues getting everything done. Her house was sold very quickly for $420,000. There was $20,000 left in her bank account after paying off her credit cards. 

‘My brother has five kids and my sister has three children. I have no children, so they know they are in the wrong.’

I assumed we were splitting everything three ways. But then my sister in-law informed me that the grandchildren deserve a share. My brother has five kids and my sister has three children. I have no children, so they know they are in the wrong, and they’ve stopped all communication with me. They are stating I should (or will) get $58,000 from my mother’s estate or nothing.

I want to make this right. Should I just take the money?

Brother, Uncle, Son

Dear Brother,

It’s a classic 11th-hour twist.

The law is on your side. Under Arizona’s intestate law — when someone dies without a will — the spouse of a deceased person will inherit everything, even if there are children. If there are children but no spouse, the children will inherit everything. The law does not mention grandchildren, but if there were no children living, grandchildren would be next in line to inherit.

Your siblings are leveraging their relationship with you and your access to their children as a way to force you to reduce your inheritance from $147,000 to $58,000. They are putting a price on those good relations continuing, and that price is $89,000. It’s unfair and unethical to force you to share your inheritance with their children. The eight grandchildren should inherit from their parents, not from you.

“The rules for intestate inheritance only apply to estate assets, assets that are subject to probate,” according to Berk Law Group in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Stated differently, the rules do not apply to nonprobate assets or trust assets. So, before discussing ‘who gets what’ from an intestate estate, we need to define the ‘what.’ What assets make up the intestate estate?”

I don’t believe that acquiescing to your siblings’ demands will turn this toxic situation into a healthy one.

Nonprobate assets include those owned as joint tenancy with right of survivorship or bank, investment or life-insurance accounts where there is a listed beneficiary. “Unbeknownst to many, in Arizona, bank accounts that are owned by two or more individuals are automatically deemed to be joint tenancy with right of survivorship,” the law firm adds.

Of course, the irony is that — should you never have children and should you also die intestate — these nieces and nephews would inherit your estate, either indirectly by inheriting it from their parents who would inherit your estate, or directly if your siblings die before you. So by isolating you now, they risk provoking you into making a will disinheriting all of them.

Follow your gut. Do what you genuinely believe is the right thing and not what you feel pressured into doing. Sometimes when we listen quietly, the answer finds us. Pay attention to how the two options make you feel in the pit of your stomach. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that acquiescing to your siblings’ demands will turn this toxic situation into a healthy one.

They are who they are — and $89,000 won’t change that. 

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