My second cousin has been raised by her maternal grandmother, who is my aunt. Her mother is an addict and her father, who provided minimal but constant support, died a month ago. My cousin’s parents were not married and a support order was not in place. We recently discovered that the deceased father owned property and had two adult daughters from a previous marriage.
These daughters will not give my aunt their father’s Social Security number and do not want to include my cousin in any inheritance. There is no will. My aunt wants to file a claim for social security benefits on behalf of her granddaughter. The granddaughter will soon turn 15 years of age and wants to go to college. What can you recommend for my aunt to do regarding social security and possible inheritance?
Two greedy sisters who want to control their father’s estate by cutting off their youngest sibling? It sounds like a Grimm fairytale. But lucky for your 14-year-old cousin, she has relatives who have her back and want her to have her rights as a legal heir recognized. The best part of your letter: This money could help fund her education and change her life. And so it shall. Because these two sisters are betting on their youngest sibling not having enough knowledge or power to take any action. She is entitled to far more than Social Security.
But you’re right about the Social Security aspect. “When you die, members of your family could be eligible for benefits based on your earnings,” according to the Department of Social Security. “Unmarried children can receive benefits if they are: younger than age 18 — or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time — or any age and were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.” So that should be a welcome and helpful stipend for your cousin. Here’s some guidance on how to find his Social Security number online.
But there are bigger issues here. She is a legal heir and, as there was no will, your cousin is likely entitled to at least one-third of her father’s estate assuming her father was not married at the time of his death, and there were only three surviving children. Children born outside of marriage have the same legal rights, as long as they were not adopted by another family. In New York, a spouse would inherit the first $50,000 of her father’s property since there was no will and one-half of the balance. Descendants receive everything else.
So what do you do now? It’s been one month since your cousin’s father died, so you should start the ball rolling today. Hire a lawyer and file a petition with the county court to nominate yourself or another adult relative as administrator. Given that this case is a slam-dunk, most lawyers would do this on a contingency basis and take their fee after the estate has been settled. If the father’s name was on the deeds of the house — which seems likely as there was no will — the property must go through probate (the court process of proving a will is valid).
Good luck. I, for one, hope there’s enough in her father’s estate and property for a college fund.
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