Pay Dirt It was never written.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics. Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here . (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

When my sister had her son—the only one in my extended family to have a child so far—our grandmother told her she wanted her family to have her home when she died. It’s a modest house in a very nice neighborhood with excellent schools, a walkable downtown, and so on. (My sister and her husband currently rent a house.) We all hoped this would be a faraway offer, but unfortunately, my grandmother fell ill and died this year. She was a wonderful if complicated woman, and we’re mostly focused on our grief. But we barely had her in the ground when estate issues flared up. My mom has several brothers, and years ago my grandmother said she wanted her assets split between my mom and them upon her death.

But this was, apparently, never written down anywhere. My mom controls the whole estate—everything was already in her name. My mom is well aware of my grandmother’s intention to leave my sister’s family her home—she talked very openly about it—but this, too, was not written down. The brothers are torn, and one is very opposed to the idea; he wants his cut from a sale in a hot market. My mom doesn’t know what to do. My sister can’t afford to buy the house right now. She wants this for her family but feels sick at the thought of fighting for it. What is the right way to figure this out, and what are the potential legal considerations for my mom?

—Big Ol’ Mess

Dear Big Ol’ Mess,

I am so sorry for the loss of your grandmother and the issues your family is now facing. I called in Jen Gumbel , a licensed estate attorney, for some extra help figuring out what your options might be.

The first thing Gumbel advises you to do is take a breath. While you may have heard your grandmother’s intent while she was alive and speaking, it wasn’t put on paper , which makes this extremely difficult to prove. When legal documents don’t match the intent a person expressed, you have a legal mess with high emotions. “Assets travel because of writing. If it’s not in a will, it doesn’t happen,” Gumbel said. In order to inherit a specific asset as her granddaughter, it needs to be on paper.

“States have rules on how you give you divide assets in an estate, and it usually has to be written to state standards,” Gumbel added. As every state is different regarding probate , it’s extremely important that your mom speaks to an estate attorney before moving forward. She could have options that are specific to your state and inheritance laws.

Gumbel advises that you all try to have a civil conversation with your family and try not to be accusatory. “People don’t like giving to people who expect. You can’t expect people to give even if it would be helpful and important to your situation,” Gumbel said. Your family may come to compromises or agreements this way that works for everyone.

Dear Pay Dirt,

Say I am 35, had a slow start to my career during the financial crisis, and am finally ascending and making six figures. Say I also never started a 401(k) because I barely had enough money to live on and pay my student loans until recently. Say I will finally be out of serious credit card debt next year, and that the student loan debt cancellation will wipe out my remaining balance, so I will be debt-free for the first time in my adult life. How would you even start to be responsible with money and planning for the future at this point? Someone in this situation would probably feel embarrassed, like all their peers made better decisions than they did when they were 25, and that it feels like they might already be too far behind to catch up.


Dear Hypothetically,

I hope this hypothetical person isn’t embarrassed, but I get why they might be. I was a late bloomer when it came to my career and finances. At 37, many of my peers own homes and have kids in junior high. But you know what? I’ve come a long way, and you have too. You’re not too late at any […]

source Our Family Is in Shambles Over My Grandmother’s Dying Wish

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