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The Unknown (Half) Sibling

I have written in this blog previously about the outcome of estate distribution when the decedent (person who died) did not execute a will.  New Jersey intestacy laws predetermine what happens to your assets and it may not be what you want.

Mary called because her cousin, Sam had recently died.  Mary had given up her apartment rental to care for Sam in his home after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  She told me that Sam had promised her that he would leave her his home after he died.  Unfortunately, he never put that promise in writing in the form of a will.

Instead, I told Mary that the intestacy laws would tell us who would inherit the home, which was in Sam’s name alone and any other probate assets he held.  She told me that Sam did put Mary’s name on his bank accounts but only as agent under power of attorney.  This account then, would also pass by way of the intestacy laws.

I then asked Mary about Sam’s family.  Sam never married and never had children.  Both his parents had passed away and Sam and his brother, Stan were their only children.  Stan, however, died at the age of 10 and so had no children of his own.  

Mary said she and her sister were the only first cousins Sam had, being children of Sam’s mother’s brother.  Sam’s father was an only child.  She said she was told that under the intestacy laws she and her sister were the sole heirs and her sister was willing to sign over any interest in the home to Mary.

As the only descendants of Sam’s grandparents, Mary would be correct that she and her sister would share the estate.  It all sounded reasonable but then I asked a few more questions.  “Did Sam’s parents have any children from a previous marriage or relationship.  That’s when Mary said that she wasn’t sure but thought that his father may have had a daughter from a previous marriage.

If true, that had the potential to change everything for Mary.  That’s because under the intestacy laws relatives of the half blood (Sam would have shared one parent with this sister) inherit the same as a whole blood.  This other sibling would then inherit as the closest relative, leaving Mary and her sister with nothing.

Next week I’ll tell you more.