Can my brother prevent me from inheriting because I'm adopted?

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Question:

I am adopted. Some years ago, my mother put her and my father's house in my brother's and my name. Our mother now has Alzheimer's and our father died earlier this year. My brother told me that our father had me removed from his will. (After my father became blind and unable to drive, he also became very angry at everyone.) Now my brother, who is well off financially, is trying to sell the house at auction.

It was my mother's wish that I have a share of the house. What legal recourse do I have?

Answer:

If the house is in your name, which you can check by examining the deed at your county recorder's office, you'll get your share of it even if you're no longer in your father's will.

Chances are, you'll still be quite curious about what the will contains. To get a gander at it, find the name of the lawyer who is handling the estate in the probate court for the county where your father died -- or the county where the property is located if your father was resident of a different state when he died -- and get a copy of the will. If you meet with an uncooperative lawyer -- a not altogether uncommon occurrence -- you should be able to get a copy of the will from the court.

If the will does not mention you at all, but also doesn't state in some way that your father intended to disinherit you, you may have a claim for a portion of his estate. In legalese, you might be considered a "pretermitted," or overlooked, heir. Adopted children have the same inheritance rights as "natural" children. (For more information on the rights of family members to inherit, seeĀ Inheritance Rights.)

Because there's so much at stake in your case, you should meet with good probate lawyer. Often these folks will give you a free initial consultation. Or, try the local bar lawyer referral panel. For more information on finding an attorney, read How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.

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