Questions about a parent's estate stay with us, don't they? This is particularly true if we don't get a chance to see the will for ourselves. This reader asks a question that many others also wonder about. Here's the question:
"I am son to a father that left us at an early age. He had very little to do with me over the years and only ever paid the small court required child support until I turned 18. He was remarried and never had more kids that I am aware of. He passed away suddenly while I was in my 20s and I received no information or contact regarding his will. As a son would I not be entitled to see his will and if his death happened say 20 years ago and his wife is still alive today, could I do anything?"
This question contains one of the most common misconceptions about wills out there. That a son or daughter is automatically entitled to see a deceased parent's will is assumed by many people. The assumption is wrong. There is no such entitlement.
Many people find this rule to be counter-intuitive. It makes sense to some people that a child should be entitled to see a parent's will. However, it simply isn't the case. You are not entitled to see a deceased person's will unless you are either the executor of the will or a residuary beneficiary of the will. Normally an executor would only contact those who were to inherit under the will.
A will is a private, personal document. As such, nobody is allowed to see it that has no legal reason to see it. Wanting to see it doesn't count. In my view, this is one more reason why people need to be super careful about who they appoint as executor, as we all know there are some executors out there who take advantage of privacy rules to deprive legitimate beneficiaries of their inheritance.
My guess would be that your father left his estate to his second wife and also made her the executor. If you (and any siblings) were over the age of 18 at the time and were not handicapped, you would not have been legal dependents and therefore he would not legally have to leave anything to you.
Your question about "doing anything" is a bit open-ended. If you are asking whether you could ask to see the will, yes you could, but you have no legal right to insist upon it. If you are asking whether you could get anything from the estate, I believe your chances are slim to none. In the absence of legal dependence on your father, what would be the basis for a challenge? And just as importantly, what would be left of the estate to collect on?