Millionaire brother is foolish to go without a will

DEAR BRUCE: I have a brother who is a millionaire. He and his wife had no children of their own, but she had two children. His wife recently passed away, and he has decided to remove her name from his investments in hopes that nothing will go to his stepchildren if her name is not on the accounts.

He has asked my advice as to what to do. I keep telling him he needs to have a will, which he refuses to do. What will happen to his money after his demise? Who can claim the money, and how do we get it? — Reader, via email

DEAR READER: I can't imagine what possesses people to think this way. You say your brother doesn't have a will and doesn't want one. Why?

Since his wife is not in the picture, the next person in line would be children — not stepchildren, unless they were legally adopted. Since there seem to be no heirs, I believe you would be next in line, sharing with any other siblings that you and your brother may have.

You might ask your brother whom he wants to take care of his final affairs. You should explain to him that a will simply directs, without question, where his monies will go. No one can go to a court upon his demise with a bogus claim and say something like, "Uncle Bob promised me all his money."

If your brother is willing to cast his assets to the wind once he has passed on, there's not much you can do. If he has any sense at all, he will consider writing a will that clearly expresses his wishes.

DEAR BRUCE: What are the procedures for getting a spouse's name added to a home title? My husband and I purchased our home four years ago, but my credit was bad, so the house was purchased in my husband's name. I'm worried that if something were to happen to my husband and the house was not in my name, I might lose it. — S.B., Florida

DEAR S.B.: There are many variables here. At the time of purchase, the lender gave credit only for your husband's reputation, income and assets. Whether the lender would agree to any change in the title given your problems is an open question.

Your husband's death would not necessarily affect your situation. In his will, without question he could leave his equity in the home to you, his wife. You would be responsible for seeing that the mortgage was retired, but you would not be homeless.

But if you still have many debts in your name, leaving the home to you may not be a good idea. Although creditors couldn't throw you out of the house, you might not be allowed to sell it without retiring those obligations.

Before doing anything, I would immediately go over all of the various possibilities with an attorney. Death can come at any time to any of us.

Send questions to or to Smart Money, P.O. Box 2095, Elfers, FL 34680. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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