Photo: Marc Royce
Q: My aunt told me that she was going to leave me more than $100,000 when she died. We made a will because she wanted to be sure I got all the money, which was in mutual funds and IRAs. After my aunt passed away, I found out she had a beneficiary listed from many years ago. I've called several lawyers, but no one will talk to me; they all say, “Give up, you're wasting your time.” Is there any way this money can still be mine? I was counting on investing it for my retirement.
Suze: I am so sorry to tell you that the lawyers you've contacted are correct. The beneficiary stated on your aunt's accounts overrides what's written in her will. If she hired a lawyer to draw up that document, you should be mad. Any professional knows this basic rule of estate planning and should have worked with your aunt to make sure that the names listed on every single one of her assets were in sync with what she said she wanted in her will.
Though you don't have any legal recourse, if you know the recipient identified on the accounts, perhaps you can try appealing to him or her. This person probably loved your aunt as much as you did and would want to honor her intent.
At the very least, I'd like to help others learn from your predicament. In “Leaving a Legacy”, I discuss how to ensure that one's wishes are carried out.
From the May 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine