Our 86 yr. old aunt had no relatives except 4 nephews. Her caretaker of 3 yrs. says everything was left to her. Our aunt told us she had to give her money for everything. She says legally she can't even give us family pictures. Our aunt was quite eccentric. We were in contact with our aunt trying to help. Do we have any legal options?
2 Answers from Attorneys
Sounds like to me this might be a case of undue influence by the caretaker - not unusual under the circumstances. I suggest propmptly consulting a good, local, estate litigator, and fighting this, if there are enough assets involved to justify the cost.
Mr. LeVine correctly advises you, but I wanted to make a few additional points. You say that your aunt's caretaker "says everything was left to her." Your question does not make it clear as to whether there was a will and, if so, whether the caretaker's reportage is correct. I would not, under any circumstance, rely merely on what someone says.
There are a few possible ways in which a person can transfer assets. One way is, of course, a lifetime transfer -- in other words, a transfer made by your aunt while she was alive. Other ways include, of course, a bequest in a will; jointly-held assets (such as real estate or a bank account); or a beneficiary designation. Whichever method was used it is open to challenge.
The most typical challenges to the probate of a will involve claims of lack of testamentary capacity or undue influence.
Lack of testamentary capacity means that the person who executed the will did not have mental capacity to do so. The most typical test to determine that is whether the testator (your aunt) knew the nature and extent of her "bounty," meaning that the inquiry will be whether leaving her assets to the caretaker would be rational and whether your aunt understood the value of her assets.
As an example, let's say your aunt's estate was exceedingly small and let's also say the caretaker was unusually dedicated to your aunt. In such circumstances, it might not be thoroughly surprising for the caretaker to be left all of your aunt's assets. On the other hand, if the estate was sizeable, such a bequest would likely be suggestive that your aunt either was not competent to make a will or that someone (the caretaker) exercised undue influence over her.
Undue influence means that your aunt was, essentially, deprived of her own free will.
You have to review all of the facts and circumstances in order to determine whether a challenge will make sense. Thus, you should contact an attorney experienced in these matters. If you would like, you may fee free to contact me.
Good luck to you.