The Moneyist: ‘He was infatuated with her’: My brother had a drinking problem and took his own life. He left $6 million to his former girlfriend who used to buy him alcohol
Last September, my older brother took his own life after living with depression. My brother misused alcohol as well. I moved away in my mid-20s, which allowed me to grow and learn and be an adult. My brother really had no real life skills.
Over the years he was coddled by our adoptive, loving parents. They did what they thought best, but in the end, it hindered him as he let them take care of him until my mother passed in October 2017, and then my father in December 2020.
During our parents’ later years, they quit traveling to take care of my brother, who would drink alcohol and fall. They were afraid they’d come home and find him dead. So they stopped seeing my family and me as often as they would have liked.
His former girlfriend visited my parents
As my parents grew older, a former girlfriend of my brother visited my parents and helped them with errands. My brother was infatuated with her and obsessed with getting back with her. She would say no, but it was always on his mind.
After my dad passed, a friend called the police to do a welfare check on my brother. He was out cold. The doctor told him that he needed to change his ways or he would be dead in six months. I discovered his female friend bought him vodka.
At the end of September, he took his own life. His former girlfriend inherited everything — a seven-figure estate. She told me that he talked many times about suicide. I would have removed the guns from the house had I known he owned any.
He taught her how to trade stocks
She also said that he talked to her about stocks, and showed her how to trade. I suspect she knew the value of his estate. In a letter written in May 2021, he said I should get the family home and a portion of his large bank account.
Unfortunately, my brother didn’t understand that this note wasn’t legal or binding, as there were no witnesses to it. I asked for my father’s portion of the estate, which adds up to $2 million out of almost $6 million. I’m willing to take $1.5 million.
I suspect there was some other intent here — that she played the long game. She’s been very hesitant about giving me anything. She said she could honor my parents by not “blowing it.” I said, “You could honor them by giving me what I ask for.”
Should I bring this to the attention of the police? They still have his suicide notes — he left around a dozen around the house. It’s really a “he said/she said” situation, and I have no proof that she kept anything from me. Could I possibly sue for negligence?
A Grieving and Confused Brother
Dear Grieving and Confused,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry that your brother had such a hard life. I’m sorry that he tried so hard to get sober and fell off the wagon. And I’m sorry that he thought there was no way out and took his life, especially in such a manner. His world got smaller, and he felt his options were limited. He invited this former girlfriend into his life, and she may or may not have provided him with the companionship that he needed and/or enabled his drinking. We will probably never really know.
For your brother’s will to be valid, it must be signed by two witnesses in most states and they should not stand to inherit anything from the estate. The law varies from state to state. Generally, a will can be contested on one of three grounds: lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence from a third party, or improper execution. The latter is often the easiest and most common way a will is contested and/or overturned. But you may have grounds on the first two.
“It would be near-impossible to draw a straight line through your brother’s fragile mental health, his relationship with alcohol and his former girlfriend’s intentions.”
Contesting the will would likely be expensive and be an ordeal for you and, of course, his former girlfriend. The statute of limitations for contesting a will varies from state to state, so if you wish to take this road, you should talk to your lawyer, and do so without wasting any time. When your lawyer has all the details, he or she will advise you of the likelihood of succeeding in a potential case, and whether it’s worth pursuing. The sum of money involved is obviously very large.
Proving that your late brother’s friend somehow contributed to his death, however, would be a higher mountain to climb. Just because she was aware of the size of his fortune does not mean that she sought to hasten the end of his life, or pushed him to drink himself into a place where he could no longer find the hope to live. It would be near-impossible to draw a straight line through your brother’s fragile mental health, his relationship with alcohol and her role in his life.
We never really know for sure what goes inside another person’s home and/or what transpires between two people. If she did buy him vodka knowing that he had issues with alcohol misuse, it clearly an irresponsible, even reckless, decision. Ascribing motives to her actions is tempting, but it’s a slippery slope for you as you grieve his death: She becomes the villain, and he forever becomes the victim. I know he deserves better than being reduced to that.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the free, confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Additional resources include the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741), the Veterans Crisis Line (press 1 after dialing the national Lifeline), the Trevor Project for LGBTQ youth (1-866-488-7386), the Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline (call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746).
MarketWatch also has expert advice for people who are thinking of suicide or experiencing other mental-health issues during the pandemic.
You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.
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