Was I wrongly cut out of sister’s estate when she died?

Q&A: Dominic Coyle

My partner’s brothers and sisters sold their  dead sister’s house for €190,000. He got nothing.

My partner’s brothers and sisters sold their dead sister’s house for €190,000. He got nothing.

 

When my partner’s parents died a good few years ago, they left the house to his sister who had been paralysed as a result of a car accident.

She never married and had no children. When she died several years ago, my partner’s brothers and sisters subsequently sold the house for €190,000. My partner has received less than €1,000 from this so far. He has enquired of a brother where the money from the house sale went and was told “we all got money out of it”.

When my partner said that he had not got any money out of it, the brother replied by asking if he was stuck for cash. How can this be looked into?

Ms M.McC., email

There are two possibilities here. The first is that your partner’s parents, wanting to take care of his disabled sister, gave her a life interest in the family home. This would mean that she would have the exclusive right to live there but that, when she died, it would pass on to others under the terms of the parent’s wills.

In this case, such an arrangement would be stated in the will of one or other parent, depending on who owned the property, but most probably the one that dies later.

The second possibility is that it would have been left to her in full in the will or wills of the parents.

In this second case, which appears to be what your partner believes happened, there are a further two options.

First, the disabled sister may have made her own will, leaving the property to one, some or all of her siblings. She could, of course, have chosen to leave it to anyone but, if that were the case, your partner’s brothers and sisters would not have been selling it after she died.

If she did this, it may be that she did not include your partner in any inheritance. The same is true if the parents’ named ultimate beneficiaries in a will granting her a life interest.

The other alternative is that this woman died intestate – i.e. without making a will at all. In that case, your partner is certainly entitled to a share of the estate unless she was living in the house under a life interest arrangement.

What now?

So what now?

You can find and get copies of the wills of both your partner’s sister and, if relevant, her parents from the Courts Service, once a grant of probate has been issued. You can find the details online at: courts.ie/probate-register-online.

This has an easy-to-use search facility that, with a first name, surname and year of death, allows you to check for when grants of probate were issued and from which office (which is important). It will also provide a Record Number, which you will need to access the actual will.

The web page also provides a downloadable form to fill out and send on to the probate office or the relevant district probate registry to get a copy of the will. You will need to include a fee of about €10 payable by cheque or postal order.

But that’s only of use if there is a will. The website will also tell you if the person died intestate and, from a quick check, it appears that this is the case with your partner’s sister.

When someone dies intestate, next of kin can apply for probate and, in this case, that would be her siblings. It appears two of your partner’s brothers made the application.

But the key thing with intestacy is that there is no discretion in how the estate is divided. And, in a case like this, where there is no spouse or children, the estate is divided equally among her brothers and sisters – including your partner.

Where one or more of the siblings are deceased, any children they may have would inherit the parent’s share equally.

How much of the €190,000 sale price is due to your partner depends on how many brothers and sisters this disabled sister had. There is also the issue of any other value in her estate.

All this presumes the sister was not living in the house under a life interest – in which case you have to go back to the parents’ wills.

Your partner needs to formally contact the two brothers who took out the grant of probate to seek his full share of the estate. If there is no satisfaction or clarity, as may unfortunately be the case, he needs to get a solicitor to work for him.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or email dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice. No personal correspondence will be entered into

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