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The Moneyist: ‘I worry my sister and I will not see anything’: My grandfather married a second time before dying. Do I have any right to an inheritance?

Dear Quentin,

My paternal grandmother died when I was 5 years old.

Her husband, my grandfather, remarried a woman a couple of years later. (My mom says she was already after him at my grandmother’s funeral.) He was a wealthy man and helped put me through college. He passed away in July. 

I did not receive anything further. I think any money he and his current wife have — or had — is going to go to her kids and that side of her family. I worry my sister and I will not see anything.  Do you have any suggestions for me?  Thanks in advance. 

Grandchild Left Out in the Cold

Dear Grandchild,

If your grandfather died without a will, his estate will be divided between his wife and his children. How that plays out depends on where they live. If a parent dies without a will in California, for instance, a spouse inherits 100% of the marital property, and one-third of the separate property, while the children — your mother and her siblings, in this case — would inherit the other two-thirds.

In situations where there is only one child, the spouse inherits 50% of the separate property and the only child — your mother, if she is your grandfather’s only child — inherits the other 50%. And that division of the estate, of course, does not apply to marital assets. Any assets that have been commingled and, therefore, have become marital/community property, belong to his wife, your step-grandmother.

Assuming there is a will, he probably made sure his wife was taken care of. And that is where the tricky minefield plays a part. Given that your mother regards her stepmother as a gold digger, I’m assuming that relations are frosty, or civil at best. People tend to know when they’ve been sized up as an interloper, rightly or wrongly. And these kinds of moments provide an opportunity to respond in kind.

People who feel estranged from their children — or who may not appreciate their attitude to their second spouse — sometimes will their assets to their grandkids. In some cases, they leave millions of dollars to their grandchildren, shunning everyone else, and leaving behind a cauldron of resentments and regrets. If there are problem children, a trust can be a more appropriate option.

So what now? If there are any items of your grandfather’s that you would like for sentimental value, you won’t receive them if you don’t ask for them. Your step-grandmother may or may not accommodate you. But your grandfather was generous enough to pay for your education and, thereby, gave you the means to make your own way in life. As such, you are luckier than most.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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