Can you leave anyoneyour propertyina Will?

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Can you leave anyoneyour propertyina Will?

Father and unmarried girlfriend both died within 2 years time; father died first then she died.  The house was split 3 ways to myself, my brother and her. Girlfriend in turn left her 1/3 share to a daughter she said she adopted and raised. Nobody has ever met the so-called daughter. Is this legal without any proof of her being raised as one of my father’s children. This was my mother and father’s house until my mother passed and the girlfriend moved in. Do we have any recourse?

Asked on May 31, 2011 under Estate Planning, Michigan

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

First of all, whether or not the person in question is in fact your late stepmother's daughter has no bearing here. A person can bequeath property to whomever they wish; there need be no family relationship.

The real matter at hand is what, if any, right did your stepmother have to transfer her share of the property in the first place? How did the 3 of you hold title to the house - was it as "joint tenants with rights of survivorshiop"(JTWROS) or as "tenants in common"(TIC).  If it was as JTWROS then upon her death you and your brother would have automatically taken over her interest in the property by operation of law. Therefore, she had nothing to convey to her "daughter" in her Will.  If, however, you held title as TIC, then your stepmother could freely gift her interest in the house to whoever she pleased. In that case, her daughter is now an equal 1/3 owner along with you and your brother. 


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