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Dear Quentin,

My former stepfather passed away a month ago. He was married to my mother in Nevada at the time of her passing 21 years ago. During their marriage she gave him quite a bit of money from her retirement fund to buy and upkeep properties that he/they owned. 

When she passed away, her property — including her retirement and Social Security — went to him (my mom had no will). My sister and I, who were 19 and 21, got nothing. Over the years, he told my grandmother and others that he was going to take care of that by putting us in his will. 

He has two older children, a son and a daughter, who are handling his estate along with a law firm, and I am at a loss of how to broach the subject of his will. I honestly wasn’t going to say anything to them, if he actually did what he said he was going to and left us something.

Now I’m not so sure if he left us anything. I don’t want to come across as greedy, but my sister is a single mom and any financial assistance would be most beneficial to her and her daughter. At the time of my mother’s death a lot of people were upset that he took everything. 

Is there any tactful way to handle this?

Left Behind With Nothing

Dear Left,

My instincts tell me that you were not mentioned in the will. 

For your sake, I hope I’m wrong. I have two reasons for believing this: 1. Under intestate laws in Nevada, a spouse receives community property — assets acquired during the marriage and retirement and Social Security — and one-third of separate property. The rest goes to the kids.

And 2. The fact that he told people he was going to remember you in his will, likely knowing that they would pass on this information, leads me to suspect that he knew you were given the short shrift when your mother passed away, and this secondhand news would appease you.

A more straightforward way for your stepfather to handle this would have been to adhere to the state law, and explain this to you at the time, if there was no separate property, which seems unlikely, and speak to you directly rather than hoping you would not rock the boat based on what your relatives told you.

You should not be in a position to ask your stepsiblings for a handout. You can, instead, access any will that was filed with the county clerk in the district court in the county where your stepfather passed away. If there was no will, stepchildren inherit nothing.

If there is no will? You could argue your stepfather “forgot” about you in his will, and approach his children with a request for money. But you need to put a price on your pride for taking such an action. Is it worth it for $5,000? Or $50,000? Or $500,000? How big is his estate?

Nothing happens by accident. Your stepfather spoke about how he would take care of you to everyone but you. That does not bode well. I hope I’m wrong, but 21 years is a long time, and unless you were very close during that period, I don’t hold out much hope. 

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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