Lawlink – What can we do about estranged sister’s share of late brother’s estate?

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Q. My brother passed away last year following a short illness. The family were all around him when he passed, save for my sister. He and our sister had a serious falling out years ago and she chose to have nothing to do with the family since. We did not hear from her while my brother was sick, and she didn’t come to the funeral. Her own children have been supportive but confirmed she wants nothing to do with the family. My brother didn’t make a will and he had a house and some good savings. He never married and had no children. We are worried that our sister will be entitled to a share of his house and estate. Can you advise us?

Dear Reader,

The Succession Act provides for what occurs in situations where someone passes away without having left a will. The act provides that if your brother had never married and never had any children, the entirety of his estate would pass to his parents in equal shares. If your parents have passed away, your brother’s entire estate would pass to his surviving siblings at the date of his death – that is, you and your sister and any other siblings you may have.

A person can be disinherited only in very limited circumstances – such as situations where a spouse has separated from the deceased or where a person has committed a crime against the deceased. None of those situations would seem to apply here, so if your brother did not leave a will and your parents have passed, your sister is entitled to inherit a share of his estate.

Your solicitor should look at how the various assets of the estate were held. If the property was held in joint names for your brother and another person, then it would pass to that other person via survivorship automatically and would not form part of his estate. The same would apply to any joint bank accounts held.

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You do not mention whether your brother had a partner, but it is possible that if they were living with someone then they could be classed as a cohabitating partner under the Civil Partnership Act. Such a partner would be entitled to redress under this act.

That said, it is possible that your sister does not wish to take her share of the estate. If so, she can disclaim her share of the estate. This is something that she can decide to do, but it is not something which can be forced on her. That said, it is my experience that someone who may be estranged during life, where there is inheritance, they usually make contact to claim their share.

You should discuss all possible avenues with your solicitor at the earliest possible juncture.