‘She took his queen-size mattress for herself’: My sister mooched off my father whereas pretending to be his caregiver. Then he died a painful demise.

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Dear Quentin,

When my father passed away a few years ago, he left everything to my sister and me in his trust — a 50/50 split. I live 400 miles away from my dad’s old house and my sister’s house. She mooched off him for many years. She made herself his trustee and handled his money and spent nearly all of it on herself. She controls his bank account and savings.

She said she was his caregiver, but she took his queen-size bed for herself and made him sleep in a hospital bed. He died at 92. He had a phobia about liquids. She did not measure his fluid intake as she was told to do by his doctor. He died of dehydration, and an impacted bowel which ruptured and gave him peritonitis. He died a very painful death.

‘She even sold my mother’s custom-made turquoise jewelry, precious cut stones and gold, and antiques.’

I contacted my sister every week and asked her when I could come down to the house so we could have an estate sale. She refused to give me a date. During this time, she gave a lot of belongings to her family. She sold most of it and kept the money: an antique gun collection, gun-making supplies, hunting equipment, fishing and camping supplies, antique tools.

She even sold my mother’s custom-made turquoise jewelry, precious cut stones and gold, and antiques. She had all the newest appliances and kitchen gadgets, canning supplies, and pots and pans. My sister kept or sold everything, even their property in Colorado. I got two antique canning jars and half a dozen old bottles my dad had found while hunting.

My question is: Can my sister get anything from me after I pass?

Betrayed Sister

Dear Betrayed,

We may never know whether your sister’s caregiving led to or exacerbated your father’s illness and death. Peritonitis is caused by a bacteria and typically leads to dehydration. So while your father may have been dehydrated when he died and/or when he was admitted to the hospital, it’s difficult and potentially perilous for your mental health to draw a line between the two. There also may have been a health-related reason for your father sleeping in a hospital bed.

You’re asking the wrong question or, at least, missing the key question that should arise from your story. Yes, if you die without a will, your next of kin will receive your estate. If you have no children, that would be your sister. So make a will. Always make a will. Even if you have no family, as I told this gentleman, there’s always something worth while you can do with your money.

You’re asking the wrong question or, at least, missing the key question that should arise from your story.

Here’s the question missing from your letter: “How can I hold my sister accountable and make sure our late father’s estate is distributed equally?” As a trustee of your family trust, she has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries — and not just herself — including a duty of loyalty and a duty of prudence. She has failed on both counts.

“Trusts are administered by the trustee outside of court, and wills are administered by the executor through a court process called probate — very different paths,” according to the law firm Albertson & Davidson. “Since wills have heavy court oversight, and trusts don’t, many people think trusts cannot be contested in court. But that’s where they are wrong.”

As a beneficiary, you can take your sister to court over her handling of the trust. “Furthermore, a trust can be contested on all the same grounds for which a will can be contested,” Albertson & Davidson adds. “The most commonly used grounds include: lack of capacity, undue influence, fraud, or some problem with how the document was signed.”

Consult an estate lawyer in your father’s state to outline your concerns and examine your options. You have a choice to make about whether you decide to hold your sister accountable or not, based on the amount of money involved in your late father’s estate, your desire to set things right and, of course, your own mental health. Whatever you decide, I wish you well.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Money’s 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.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• I live with my girlfriend, 59, who owns several homes and has saved $3 million. I pay utilities and cable, and do lots of repairs. Is that enough?
• ‘He is the most computer-illiterate person I know’: I was my husband’s research analyst, caregiver, cook and housekeeper. Now he wants a divorce after 38 years.
• ‘Our friends always yearned for a relationship like ours’: My husband of 16 years left me for another man. I don’t want them to live in our properties. What can I do?

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