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The Moneyist: ‘Her husband claims he knows nothing about it’: My late sister said I was named in her will. But her husband has not provided it. What now?

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Dear Quentin,

My older sister passed away about six months ago. 

She always told me that, if anything happened to her, she had taken care of my daughters and me in her will. I think she was talking about the money in a checking account. Her husband of 30 years is also listed on the account, but not as a signer.  

So it went to probate. I haven’t seen a copy of her will and her husband claims he knows nothing about it. She said she got her will from her bank, meaning that I guess she went through a third party within her bank as they offer discounts.

He seems to be having a hard time letting go of her money that she wanted someone else to have after she passed. They had no children together. Probate has been going on for a couple of months.

How could I find out if she really had a will? And how long does probate take? I don’t want to rock the boat with her husband, who I love dearly.

In the Dark in Ohio

Dear In the Dark,

It’s a hard balance: remaining on good terms with a person who you believe has hidden or destroyed a will, and pursuing this without rocking the boat. The former is possible by choosing to think the best of him — what if there was no will? — and taking consolation in the knowledge that he made your sister happy while she was alive. The latter is more delicate. It’s often difficult to express your concerns or take decisive action without rocking the boat. It’s often not possible to have it both ways.

People typically store wills in a safe deposit box, with their attorney or bank, or even with the executor. Your sister may or may not have made a will, and she may have misunderstood how much money she had of her own that she could have left to you in a will. Probate can take six to 12 months in Ohio. “Wills should be filed in the probate court as soon as possible after a person’s death. The law provides penalties for withholding or destroying a will,” according to the Ohio State Board Association.

Who inherits the money from your sister’s checking account would depend on the kind of joint account they had together. If your sister was the owner of a joint-tenants-in-common bank account, the balance would be transferred to her estate. If the account was joint tenants with rights of survivorship, the money would go to the co-owner — your brother-in-law — rather than the next of kin of the deceased. She couldn’t leave you marital property, even if she had expressed such a wish.

Yocan 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 Moneyist 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’ve felt like an outsider my whole life’: My father died without a will, leaving behind my stepmother and her 4 children. Do I have any rights to his estate?
• ‘He was infatuated with her’: My brother had a drinking problem and took his own life. He left $6 million to his former girlfriend who used to buy him alcohol
• She had a will, but it was null and void’: My friend and her sister are fighting over their mother’s life-insurance policy and bank account. Who should win out?

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