“My stepmother wasn’t that ethical”: I suspect that my stepmother removed me as a beneficiary from my late father’s life insurance policy. What can I do?

My father passed away in March 2019. My stepmother told me that I have an inheritance from my father. She stopped communicating with me after my father died. I contacted the Department of Financial Services website for lost life insurance policies and received a letter saying my father was a participant but named someone other than me as the beneficiary.

My stepmother was not so ethical at times. She previously stole money from her sister’s bank account while working for the financial institution she now runs. Her sister did not press charges, so the matter was dropped by my father, with whom she was having an affair. Could she have changed the beneficiary and falsified something in my father’s name?

My family also suspects that she tried to cash another life insurance policy in which I was 51% beneficiary. She sent me a check after my dad passed away saying it was a “gift” and called me almost two years later saying she had just “found” a policy with me as the 51% beneficiary. I suspect she was a 49% beneficiary. To make matters worse, this policy was through her place of business.

Suspicious daughter

Dear Suspects,

Anything is possible. It looks like you are dealing with an unknown amount and should not be entrusted with other people’s money. Your stepmom, by your account, doesn’t seem to be on the up and up considering she stole money from her sister’s bank account. It’s possible that she couldn’t cash in a policy with you getting 49%—hence the delay—but given the split outlined in the policy, it seems unlikely that she kept the entire policy for herself. The contractor is responsible for dealing with the property in a timely manner.

It is not unheard of for people to question an amendment made to a trust, insurance policy or last will and testament. Priscilla Presley, the ex-wife of Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll,” who died in 1977, filed legal papers in Los Angeles Superior Court last week challenging the validity of amending a living trust that controls the estate of her late daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who died earlier this month. The 2016 amendment removed Priscilla Presley and a former business executive as trustees, the Associated Press reported.

Among the problems cited in the legal filing: Priscilla Presley claims she was not notified of the change as required, no witness or notarization, Priscilla Presley’s name was misspelled on a document she allegedly signed by her late daughter, and the name of Lisa Marie Presley’s own signature was determined to be atypical, the news agency also reports. Aside from questions of the authenticity of an amendment, amendments to wills, trusts, and—in your case—insurance policies must always meet certain legal standards.

It is not unheard of for people to question an amendment made to a trust, insurance policy or last will and testament.

“Last-minute beneficiary changes can be a red flag for life insurance companies,” according to LifeInsuranceAttorney.com. “Ordinarily, the insured under a life insurance policy can change their beneficiaries whenever they want, as long as the change meets all the specific requirements in the life insurance policy. However, where the insured person is elderly, seriously ill or mentally incapacitated and the change of beneficiary occurs shortly before the insured person dies, he may have been unduly influenced by others.’

“For example, a trustee or estranged family member may persuade or influence a vulnerable insured to add them as a beneficiary to the insured’s life insurance policy or to remove other beneficiaries,” the firm says. Moreover, “Life insurance companies may also deny claims if the beneficiary has made a change in beneficiary that is not in accordance with the requirements of the insured’s life insurance policy. Some policies may require the insured to have a certain number of witnesses present,” he adds.

Depending on the amount of money, you may want to hire an attorney to see if you have a case and/or to put your mind at ease. The statute of limitations—that is, the time you have to challenge the validity of a life insurance policy—can vary depending on your circumstances, the state you live in, and/or whether new information has come to light. “The statute of limitations in most cases is three years. But not always,” according to the Center for Life Insurance Disputes, an insurance agency in Washington, DC

She stopped talking to you after your father died: It’s possible she’s maintaining what’s left of his estate and figuring out what she can take for herself. Or maybe you didn’t get along and a breakdown in communication was inevitable. Or both. Have any changes been made to your father’s policy that would raise a red flag? This is unclear. Your stepmother may have learned her lesson when she wasn’t being hounded by her sister for alleged financial misdeeds.

Then again, maybe not.

You You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to the coronavirus at [email protected] and follow Quentin Fottrell at Twitter.

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More by Quentin Fottrell:

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