Jerry Springer Much.
April 4, 2007 7:31 PM   Subscribe

*deep breath* Ok. My great-grandmother left me a bout $10,000 when she died (I was six) to use towards college. My father, who was put as the executor over the account of whatever, spent the money when I was about fifteen. Now I'm 26 and I'd like to sue him for it. Can I win?

More information - a lot more. My father recently went to prison for a myriad of charges, the most serious being child molestation. He'll be away for about 5 years. His home, which he 'owns' (has about a $25k mortgage, home is worth about $60) is probably going to be going into forclosure soon. His girlfriend is living on the property and he's instructed her to sell it. I've never considered going after him for the money before, but seeing as a)he's about to sell the home and have about $25k left after and b) I'm getting married in October and I need about $20k to pay for the wedding, I'm thinking now's my only real chance to get back what I'm owed.
I have the letter from my great-grandma where she outlines leaving me the funds, basically a last will and testiment. I have court documents from a custody battle between my parents over my little brother from about 7 years ago where he was court ordered to pay me back. I know around when he spent the money. I can probably get the name of the bank that was holding the funds and I can probably get the reciept or something that shows the main thing he bought with it (a truck). My question is whether any of that would matter... is there any legal precedence for this? Do I have a leg to stand on?
Thanks for your help in advance.
posted by Bageena to Law & Government (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The real question is can you actually extract $10,000 from his estate that will go into foreclosure or not?

If not, and he doesn't have $10k elsewhere to his name, then all suing him will do is wreak havoc on you, him and the rest of your family (if there is a rest of your family).

I think you may have a legal leg to stand on, but the only person who can really answer that is a lawyer. Even if you do have that leg, though, I would suggest that unless you think you can actually get the money (and feel OK about taking it, too), you might reconsider the action as not even being worth it.
posted by twiggy at 7:36 PM on April 4, 2007

I have court documents from a custody battle between my parents over my little brother from about 7 years ago where he was court ordered to pay me back.

If he's already been court ordered to pay you, shouldn't you just need to get that order enforced?

(Not a lawyer. Not close to being a lawyer. No particular knowledge about any of this. Just someone who read your question and thought that point seemed odd.)
posted by jacquilynne at 7:40 PM on April 4, 2007

IANAL. But I think your case is worth exploring with one. If your evidence is as good as you describe it here, and you live in the state of jurisdiction (i.e. you don't have to sue in a state other than the one in which you live), I think the matter may be worth your time. Assuming you prevail in some kind of civil proceeding, whether you get money now, or in the future, will depend to some degree upon your ability and willingness to find and attach his current assets and future income stream, and to continue to pursue your claims.

As a wedding finance strategy, this may not be your best option. But, in the long run, there are some kinds of benefits that standing up for yourself uniquely confers.
posted by paulsc at 7:49 PM on April 4, 2007

You may be able to put a lien on his house using your old court order. Ask a lawyer.
posted by lee at 7:54 PM on April 4, 2007

If the court ordered him 7 years ago to pay you back (and you have to be ABSOLUTELY SURE OF THIS), you might be able to get it enforced now. You were 19 at the time of this judgment (from what I understand), and at that point were legally allowed to go after him for the money - and while I'm quite sure of Statutes of Limitation, I'm not so sure as to how they apply to judgments, or if they do at all.

This is a really crap way to get money for a wedding, I have to be honest; you're not going to be able to get moving on something like this without an attorney, and unless you are able to find some legal clinic options (for example, if you're still in university), that's going to cost you as well.

This will neither quick or painless, and honestly probably not done in time for you wedding. Getting the judgment, as I'm sure you've realized, is the easy part - getting the money will be a bit more difficult. If your father owes other people money who are also eyeing the house (and if he's just gone away for 5 years, I'd imagine he's probably not the most credit worthy person) and he's forced into bankruptcy, you might find yourself in line for money that will never arrive.

You also might have an issue with the girlfriend - if she has legal right to sell the house, she has to be party on the title (unless he plans on closing the thing in the slammer). If that's the case, any judgement against him is going to be paid by HALF of what the house is worth, after creditors if he's in bankruptcy.

So, what you really have to ask yourself (after you've realized that the money isn't going to be for the wedding) is whether you want to stick it to your father and get the money, regardless of money or time, or if you want to let this go and move on.

Either way, speak to a lawyer and get them to size up what's going on. You won't even get off the block by yourself, so its worth your time to see what counsel in your area will advise.

IAN(Y)AL, this is not to be taken as legal advice. Consult licensed, competent council in your jurisdiction.
posted by plaidrabbit at 8:11 PM on April 4, 2007

IANAL, and especially I am not your lawyer. But like everyone else says this sounds superficially like a strong case, and possibly you should be able to get your earlier judgment enforced against him. A local lawyer should be able to handle this easily.
posted by grobstein at 8:16 PM on April 4, 2007

You should try to get interest on it too. Good luck.
posted by bash at 8:17 PM on April 4, 2007

You are entitled to the money and you should feel no hesitance or guilt for suing your father for it. Keep reminding yourself of that. Your great-grandmother wanted you to have it because she thought you deserved it. That money is yours.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:26 PM on April 4, 2007

What state?
posted by Slap Factory at 8:38 PM on April 4, 2007

I am not your lawyer, but I think you have grounds to find one asap!
posted by Count Ziggurat at 9:05 PM on April 4, 2007

One thing rings a bit oddly to me --- that a court, in a custody proceeding, ordered your father to pay you back the money he took from you. Are you sure this was a court order?

If you're in Arizona, as your profile suggests, and the court order was entered in an Arizona court, it looks like there may be a five-year statute of limitations on execution of domestic judgments there. I know nothing about Arizona law; I just made a quick perusal of the Arizona code on Westlaw.

You need to get to an attorney now. There's a good chance your statute has already run, but only the lawyer licensed in the proper jurisdiction can answer this. (Be prepared to spend at least $500 getting this question answered---maybe more.)
posted by jayder at 9:22 PM on April 4, 2007

If you already have a court order, what you'd probably be looking to do is enforce the judgment. There are statutes of limitations on enforcing judgments, and how long you get depends on which state you're in, which state the court is in, and what type of action it was. If you don't have a judgment yet, then there's also a statute of limitations involved that is dependent on similar factors.

In other words, get a lawyer. Call your local bar association for referrals; even if you have to pay for a consultation you should be able to get a good handle on what to do next.

posted by AV at 9:29 PM on April 4, 2007

You said you have a letter from your grandmother that is "basically a last will and testament." The way you said that makes me think that it wasn't actually a legal will.

If the letter was not considered a will during probate, then it is not legally binding, even if it's what your great-grandmother wanted. And it doesn't matter at this point if you have the letter, what matters is whether the probate records show that the money is supposed to go to you. What happened during probate is absolutely the most important part of this question. If you don't know, you need to find out before you go any further.

I am also a little confused about the court order you are referring to. I don't know why a family court handling a custody matter would have anything to do with an estate distribution. That also leads me to think this whole thing may have been an informal agreement in the family, rather than an actual legal order as part of probate.
posted by clarissajoy at 9:30 PM on April 4, 2007

I'm going to diverge from what seems to be the general consensus here and say that what your father did was a horrible thing, you deserve that money, and your father shouldn't be allowed to get away with something like that, however...

This just don't sound good to me. Your father took money from you. This is awful. It happened many years ago. But it seems like instead of paying a lawyer to go after your dad and try and wrangle money out of him it doesn't really seem like he has, it would be a better idea to perhaps spend that money on counseling so you can work through some of the issues you must have surrounding your father and how he's treated you. In the end, I don't think this is about the money, but rather about geting revenge on your father.

As to using the cash to pay for your wedding, I can only tell you that if you are hoping to rely on this to pay for the wedding, then you can't afford the wedding you're hoping for and you should seriously consider scaling back your planned nuptials to something slightly more cost-effective. If you can afford the wedding with or without the money, then mazel tov.
posted by incessant at 9:54 PM on April 4, 2007

This must be the most selfish thing I have read in a long time. Forget about the personal relationship between you guys. What I see is this:

1. One man is going to prison, is losing everything he has, and so he can survive, he is selling his HOME.

2. Unknown to him, another man is scheming to take away all the money he makes from the sale of the home, so he can spend it on a ONE DAY PARTY!

How cruel is this? This is a man that is going to spend the next 5 years suffering, and you want to kick him in the teeth for a wedding party. Is he going to earn money in the next 5 years? No. He will come out with nothing, and it will be you who took away the little he had.

It's not even as if this was your money. It's not like you had the money, and it was taken away from you. No, it was HIS mother (I assume), who gifted you the money. And considering what you cost your parents to raise you, that money does not even come close to covering it.

You know what - if you take the step, you'll be the bastard. What you should do right now, is just close this door, walk away and don't have contact with the man anymore. Don't take away the dignity of a falling man.

And certainly not for petty cash.
posted by markovich at 11:16 PM on April 4, 2007

I agree that you have every right to try to get what your grandmother intended you to get, and you should find a lawyer (one who specializes in probate/domestic stuff) ASAP and see if you have any case.

One thing I'd advise is pay upfront: you're more likely to get an honest analysis of your situation if you go to somebody who's billing you outright for your time, then to somebody who's going to work on commission (33% seems to be the going rate, but it could easily be higher). At least when you're just trying to figure out your options, expect to spend a few hundred bucks.

Also, and I know this really wasn't part of your question...but if you aren't rolling in dough, why are you spending twenty thousand dollars on a wedding? I'm really not trying to be snarky, but man, that's a lot of money... I know you probably don't want to hear this, but you might be better served by spending your time trimming your budget than getting your hopes up on recovering money from your father's estate.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:24 PM on April 4, 2007

markovich: This man is a convicted child molester. I may be an unforgiving bastard but I think that he deserves everything he has coming to him. I have a hard time working up much pity for someone who molested a child. Despite the contention that it is not his money, it sounds like it was, in fact, his by right and by law. His grandmother left the money to him and his father abused his position of power by violating her final wishes. The only question is whether he can go after the money after this much time.

I say stick it to him.
posted by MasterShake at 11:33 PM on April 4, 2007

He's only getting 5 years for child molestation?! Sheesh.

I'm agreeing on two points from several previous posts:

1. Don't count on that money (which your grandmother intended for your college fund) to pay for your wedding.

2. Don't spend so much on your wedding! Starting your married life with such a huge expense/debt is not a good idea. Save the money to buy a house, or invest for YOUR kids' college.
posted by fuzzy_wuzzy at 11:39 PM on April 4, 2007

markovich writes "You know what - if you take the step, you'll be the bastard."

WHAT?! No. The money was yours. It was not his. He spent it. To put in in completely unambiguous terms, he stole money, on the order of $10,000, from you. You will not in any way be a bastard for getting your money back.

Being a parent does not entitle you to rob your children.

You have a court order. Get a lawyer's advice, but I suspect you have a pretty good chance of getting at least some of your money back.
posted by mullingitover at 2:54 AM on April 5, 2007

Is the mightiest sword
Forgiveness of those you fear
Is the highest reward
When they bruise you with words
When they make you feel small
When it's hardest to take
You must do nothing at all...
-- Jane Eyre.
posted by zhivota at 4:27 AM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

AV said, as did others:

>If you already have a court order, what you'd probably be looking to do is enforce the judgment. There are statutes of limitations on enforcing judgments, and how long you get depends on which state you're in, which state the court is in, and what type of action it was.

And that is true. But many states have judgment liens, which will attach to any real estate as security for the payment of the judgment. Perhaps the necessary steps were taken to do that.

But judgment liens also have a limited life span. Thus I agree: see a lawyer.
posted by megatherium at 4:29 AM on April 5, 2007

And certainly not for petty cash.

Look everyone, Donald Trump joined Metafilter.

You have every right to the money. Lawyer up as soon as possible and go for it.

Side note: I think it's hilarious that your occupation is listed as "Collections" in your profile, hopefully that wasn't intentional.
posted by saraswati at 5:42 AM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lawyer up for your options in getting your inheritance back.

Don't make this about paying for a wedding. You make it sound like you've given up on the money until you found yourself short of cash when the estimate for the flowers came in. It's kind of killing the sympathy vote, here.
posted by desuetude at 6:23 AM on April 5, 2007

Seconding one Lee said about a lien.
posted by chunking express at 6:50 AM on April 5, 2007

You have a chance at winning but it might take a long time to get the money from his estate. You won't just magically get your 10,000 in cash before october - rather, you will have to wait awhile to get the cash while your wedding expenses will rack up finance charges. And you'll also need to invest in a lawyer to take this guy to court / the time necessary to take your father to court / etc.

Basically, you can win and you have a good chance at winning based on the documents you have. See a lawyer but keep your expectations low. If you don't win (the statue of limitations ran out, etc), then you're going to have the lawyer and court costs on top of the 20,000 wedding in october. Don't expect to win by October and receive a check by october - that won't happen.
posted by Stynxno at 7:18 AM on April 5, 2007

It's not even as if this was your money.... No, it was HIS mother (I assume), who gifted you the money.

Money that is given to you as a gift and/or left to you is not "your" money??!!

Your ideas about property rights intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:38 AM on April 5, 2007


However, there are a few points I'd like to echo. Clarissajoy brought up a good point about the "basically" last will and testament. If grandma's will wasn't legally binding, then her money would just go to her heirs through the state intestate statute, which likely means that dad gets it and has the right to spend it however he pleases. Further, as long as you were under the age of 18, your father had a right to spend it as your guardian, but he had to spend it in your best interests (which he likely didn't). You'd have to make the case not just that he spent it, but that he spent it on the wrong things. The statute of limitations on the court order (which also sounds a bit vague/dubious) may have run, but you can still make a case for your money.

Markovich, sorry, I really don't have much sympathy for child molestors.

Finally, as many have said, you have to get your money somehow. Looks like your best chance is to get a lein on the house before it sells. I wouldn't worry about the gf much; there's a good chance she doesn't have an ownership interest in the place.

Is there a law school in the area? Check to see if they have a legal aid clinic. They deal with this sort of thing all the time, and while you may not want to go to court with them, they can give your case a comprehensive review and let you know if you have a leg to stand on. Then they can reccomend some lawyers in the area if you want to push this.

Finally, don't spend $20k on a wedding. There are so many better uses for that money. Invest it and retire on it, buy a car, put a downpayment on a house, etc. I know weddings are expensive, but they're not THAT expensive.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:45 AM on April 5, 2007

Best answer: I know askme has a storied tradition of giving half-assed legal advice and analysis, and I'm adding to it by tossing off some things I (think I) learned in trusts and estates. Depending on the wording of the letter, your grandma could have:

1. created a trust for your benefit with your father as trustee. This would be the best case scenario and based on the court's ruling, is probably what happened. Your father is legally required to keep that money separate from his own and to use it as instructed.
2. made your father custodian of the money to be spent for your benefit. In that case, as long as he spent $10,000 on you, he'd be clear and free. That's probably not what happened.
3. given you a simple gift of $10,000 dollars that your father intercepted.

Any of those things could have been done through a letter and do not require a will of any sort. Any advice that hinges on a will should, I think, be discounted.

As for collecting the money, you need a real lawyer to read the judgment from 7 years ago, look at the relevant statute of limitations, and figure out when the clock started running (was it when the judgment was rendered? was it when you turned 21? was it when you learned of the judgment?).

PS - Green Eyed Monster and Markovich are being creeps. Ignore them.
posted by jaysus chris at 9:58 AM on April 5, 2007

I would not make this about getting money for your wedding, but more about righting a wrong.

Like others here I also feel you have a case and agree that you should start with enforcing the court order rather than dropping $$$ into a lawyer's pocket.

In addition to the $10k, you should calculate the interest that would have accrued on that money since the time of your grandmother's death. Had the money been properly managed for you - which is the point of leaving it in someone else's hands until the recipeint becomes of age - it would have increased its value over the years.

And, you didn't ask for financial advice, but.... it might be wise to re-invest at least a portion of this inheritence rather than dropping it all on your wedding. You'll be glad you did down the road.

Good Luck!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 10:20 AM on April 5, 2007

Lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer.

Get it? Get one.
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 AM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: *laughs* Thanks Klang. Thank you everyone for helping give me some direction. To be honest, I only want to know if I have a legal leg to stand on so I can show HIM that I do, mostly, to be honest, as a bluff. I don't know if I have the energy in me to really take this to court, especially since it could end up costing me more than it's worth. I can afford the wedding... barely. If I work harder than I've ever worked before, which I am. I don't care that it's expensive... I only plan on doing it once. If we get divorced, I'm becoming a monk or something. Going after these funds is just blind hope. To be honest, I had hoped he would just do the right thing and give it to me. That's not him though.
For the record though Markovich - she was a 12 year old girl. That's just the only one that's stepped forward. There's at least 4 other girls we think might have been involved too. He's a drug addict, an incredible alcoholic, and one of the most fucked up people on this planet. He fed me acid when I was 9, gave me beer when I was even younger than that. He openly smoked pot copiously while I was growing up right until the cops raided his property, where he was sitting on a pound a half at the time. (I smoked pot right up until I met my fiance, by the way. Now I drink wine on occasion and have no other vices. Unless biting my nails count).
What's worse is I lived with him until I was 15 years old. After that, I moved in with friends until I was 16, then started working full time at Taco Bell after I'd get out of school. I had my mother, who lived in California at the time, forge some information to get me my own apartment which I paid for by myself. I've been on my own since.
I AM in counseling. After 2 suicide attempts, years of cutting myself as a (admittedly piss-poor) coping method for my depressing and low self-esteem, I've met a girl that I can't bear to lose, so I'm doing everything I can now to fix these problems I always figured I could overcome alone. There was physical abuse, sure, but there was mental abuse that I honestly believe few can comprehend. Like being burned with cigarettes as a punishment for playing too loud when I was 9. Or being beaten with the belt for fun. So you'll have to excuse me if I hope he dies in prison and feel no sorrow for him. He hasn't shown even the slightest shred of remorse for anything he's ever done.
I think I'll put together what I can and send it to him asking him again if he'll consider just giving me the funds. He has $25k worth of equity. As it so happens, I DO happen to be in collections. Mortgage collections even. So I can help save the property from f/c long enough to sell it. I'd even be willing to help his girlfriend with what's left of the equity and put his money somewhere where it would be safe until he got out. I don't have malicious intent. I don't want anything that wasn't intended for me in the beginning. It wasn't his mother - it was his mother's mother. I'm done rambling now. Thanks again for all of your help everyone. I love this website!
posted by Bageena at 5:37 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would just like to add that I have no decent advice except "seeka lawyer" but that you seem like a very nice person who has been through some rough times and I wish you and your fiance all of the best.
posted by emd3737 at 8:44 PM on April 5, 2007

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