The Moneyologist: My adoptive parents ostracized me since I am gay — do I have a claim on their estate?

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Dear Moneyologist,

My father died in 2014 and my mother died in January of this year. I was adopted, and my non-biological sister is my only other remaining family member. A second cousin informed me of my mother’s deaths My father did not include me in the will, but so far that’s hearsay. I did call an attorney in Indiana where my family is from, he checked about any deeds for me, and apparently there was no will. Also, what about life insurance policies? Who gets that? My primary concern is who acquired all of my mother and father’s personal effects, cars, jewelry, etc.. Am I able to get any of these items?

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The main conflict in my family was the fact I’m gay. My mother and father believed it was a “choice,” which explains why I wasn’t left anything. Can I obtain a copy of the will? I asked my father about 10 years ago if I was in the will and he said yes. I would like to know my rights, in particular, the way to get any of my parents personal consequences, as I believe my estranged sister has helped herself. I tried to get her in December of 2015, but she never returned my call, so I cannot talk to her whatsoever regarding this matter.

Can I sue? What are my options?

Michael in California

Dear Michael,

I’m sorry your parents ostracized you from your family. That must have taken a toll on you. Acceptance and love is all about the one thing we all expect from our parents and, given that your parents picked you for adoption, it is even sadder. There are plenty of parents out there who would have loved to adopt a baby and given him the love and respect he deserved. That said, you are absolutely a legal heir as an adopted child. And you have the same right to your parents’ possessions as your sister. To close this chapter in your life and to make a stand, I advise you to pursue it.

Hire a lawyer in Indiana and file a request with the county court to nominate yourself as executor, if a will was registered. You only have to know the county where your parents dwelt and you can likely find out whether a will was registered with a single phone call. If there was no will and your mother died “intestate,” you are probably entitled to half of your parents’ estate. If there was a will and you weren’t mentioned in any way, you could also challenge that will on the basis that your omission was an oversight. “You still have a bite of the apple,” says Patricia Payne, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney.

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Even if you are mentioned in the will, you can still challenge it. You’ve been quiet for several years and your sister will undoubtedly be shocked to hear from you. It would cost you no more than a few hundred dollars to send that letter and, in these instances, many lawyers would do this on a contingency or even pro bono basis, particularly if there’s a valuable asset like a family home at stake. It can be prohibitively expensive to defend such a situation, ” Payne said. Based on the size of the estate — especially in cases where a family member is estranged — lawyers do advise their clients to repay.

Also see: My father didn’t love me He only left me $10,000

If your sister’s name wasn’t on the deed of the house, the property must go through probate and (without a will saying otherwise) you are entitled to half. At times, parents erroneously list their children as tenants in common on the deeds of the house rather than joint tenants with survivorship rights. In the former case, you again could instruct your attorney to name you as a rightful heir to 50 percent of the property. Tenancy in common has no survivorship rights if none are specified in a will.

Most people name beneficiaries on their life insurance policies. In the event there is no named beneficiary, the insurance provider would pay the estate and, in that event, you would probably be entitled to half, assuming there’s not any will. Needless to say, it’s hard to track down valuables once they have been spirited away by a relative. But if you did successfully make a claim on the estate, your sister would have to account for assets that were taken from the mother’s house. Sometimes, it’s just as important to have your voice heard, whatever the outcome.

Good luck on finally closing this chapter on your own life.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or some other tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyologist and please include the state in which you reside (no full names will be used).

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