Q&A: How to handle money disputes after a death in the family

Dear Liz: My son recently died. His girlfriend, who lived with him, said he told he would take care of her for the rest of her life. There’s nothing in writing that says this. She has his debit card and is using it. I am not sure, but I thought if a family member dies, the money in the person’s bank accounts belonged to the next of kin. There is a large amount of money missing, but I don’t know if my son used it to pay other debts. How do I clear this up?

Answer: If her name is not on the bank account, then most likely she doesn’t have the right to help herself to the money. Your son’s assets are supposed to be used to pay his final expenses and his creditors. Anything left over would go to the beneficiaries of his will or, if he didn’t have a will, to his next of kin according to state law.

It’s time to call an attorney familiar with probate in your state to walk you through the next steps. As angry as you might be with the girlfriend, consider staying on good terms if you possibly can, since you probably will need access to his home and his records to settle the estate.

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