Dear Penny: Am I Entitled to $240K Cash Found in My Dead Brother’s Drawer?

A stash of money sits in a dresser drawer.
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Dear Penny,

My brother passed away five years ago. He left a substantial amount of cash in a dresser drawer. When my other brother had to identify his body, he found the $240,000. 

He and his wife made the decision to create a narrative of their own, suggesting that my brother was a drug dealer, so they could justify keeping this money for themselves. Consequently, with the loss of our brother and the stress of knowing that keeping this money was wrong and sinful, my brother had a massive heart attack. 

Now it’s his wife making the awful decision to keep this money, while some of us family members are struggling to get by. She has always controlled my brother, and it’s terribly saddening that a person could be that selfish. Is there a legal way of having this money distributed fairly among the rest of us siblings? 

-Saddened Sister

Dear Saddened,

When cash is found in the home of someone who’s died, it’s supposed to become part of their estate. If the person has a will, it’s distributed in probate court according to their instructions. If the person died without a will, the probate process is much longer, but eventually, it will be distributed to their next of kin.

Though keeping $240,000 cash in your home isn’t exactly wise, it isn’t illegal. I’m going to assume that your other brother and his wife made up the drug dealing story so the family would believe this money would be seized if they reported it.

Provided that your brother who died with the cash in his drawer earned this money legally, you and your siblings were your brother’s next of kin should have been entitled to that money. Of course, there’s a big difference between a legal process and how people actually handle things — as your family’s tragic story illustrates.

But after five years, I suspect that it’s going to be hard to prove that this cash exists. Even if you could establish proof, I wonder how much is left at this point.

You could file a police report over this stolen money and see if law enforcement will investigate. If you have any texts or emails about this cash, or anything to document its existence, be sure to include it. Keep in mind, though, that states have varying statutes of limitations. Given the amount of time that’s passed, don’t be surprised if nothing comes from filing a report.

You could also consult with an estate attorney about your options. I get it: If you’re struggling to get by, the idea of hiring an attorney isn’t very helpful. But if you seriously believe you have evidence of this cash and that there is some money left, it may be worth it for you and your surviving siblings to pool your resources to at least book a consultation or find an attorney who offers free consultations. Maybe you can sue your sister-in-law (and your brother if he’s still alive) for this money, though the odds of recovering money seem slim given the time that’s passed.

I wish I had a better answer for you. I think you and your siblings will have to make peace with the fact that you’re probably not going to get this money. Of course it’s not fair that your sister-in-law gets away with this.

But accepting that a possibility is closed off allows you to make realistic decisions. This money isn’t going to alleviate your struggles. Are there any action steps you can take that would make life easier? Could you get a second job, apply for public assistance or sell some of your belongings?

None of these are easy, and of course, none will change your financial situation fast. But I’m afraid that after five years, your best solution may be to cut these family members out of your life and move on.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].