My mom died. My sisters won’t tell me anything. What can I do?


Q. My mom died in February. My sisters are power of attorney. My mom had a house and car and a lot of estate belongings. Mom told me several years ago she had life insurance policies for each one of her children. My sisters won’t let me know if she did or didn’t have life insurance policies for her kids. They are hiding a lot of things. What can I do?
— Daughter

A. We’re sorry to hear about your mother.

We’re also sorry to hear a fight could be brewing about her estate.

First, let’s make sure we’re talking about the right documents.

Power of attorney documents name an agent to act for the principal while the principal is alive.

Once the principal dies, the agent no longer has any authority to act, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

“At that time, the executor named in the will or the administrator, if there is no will, becomes the person responsible to act on behalf of the decedent’s estate,” she said. “Presumably your sisters were named executors of your mother’s estate.”

Assuming your mother had a will, you are entitled to obtain a copy, she said.

Romania said if your sisters have not provided you with a copy, you may obtain it from the surrogate of the county in which your mother lived at the time of her death.

Beneficiaries of the probate estate — property that passes by the will — are named in the will. However, the beneficiaries of life insurance and retirement accounts are named on beneficiary designation forms and typically do not pass through the probate estate unless the estate is named as the beneficiary, she said.

“If you are named a beneficiary for life insurance or a retirement account, your sisters should not be able to collect your inheritance from the financial institution and should be supplying the financial institution with your contact information,” she said.

Back to the rest of your mom’s property.

Due to the pandemic, many of the surrogates were short-staffed or temporarily closed, and thus became overwhelmed and backlogged, Romania said. Financial institutions also closed their physical offices and began working remotely.

That made it harder to marshal assets and get information for administering estates during this time period, slowing the administration process, Romania said.

“Nonetheless, assuming you are a residuary beneficiary, you would be entitled to an accounting but generally must wait a year before requesting such accounting,” she said. “You could request an inventory of the assets at this time. The estate bills must be paid and, as executors, your sisters may be personally liable for distributing assets prior to paying estate creditors.”

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This story was originally published on Aug. 10, 2020. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.