Dear Quentin,

My mother is dying of cancer and doesn’t have much longer to live.

Her current husband told me that they sought counsel to establish a will, and all of her assets are going to me and my two brothers.

1. When is it a good time to ask about her will?

2. To whom should I speak regarding her will?

3. Do I ask about it now or wait until she passes?

Obviously, I don’t want to sound greedy, but I feel as though this is important information for me and the rest of my family to know.


One of Three Sons

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Dear Son,

The ideal time to have this discussion was before your mother got sick.

With that said, trust your gut. How you decide to approach this depends on how sick your mother is currently, and what kind of relationship you have with her. If it’s a strong, healthy relationship where you can talk about anything, you might say, “Jack kindly told us that you made a will providing for the children. Is there anything that we need to know, or is there anything we can do to help with Jack or your estate?” That is, don’t come bearing questions alone. Bring some offer of assistance to the table.

If your mother is in a vulnerable state, you can take your stepfather at his word, and be there for her during her last days. It may be that she does not want to discuss her last will and testament, and I’m guessing she would not like to be grilled on the subject on her deathbed, so tread carefully. (I am assuming that your stepfather was appointed executor.) Ultimately, you should ensure that your mother is comfortable during her last days, and that includes helping to alleviate any stress or anxiety.

Timing and tone are important in any discussions. Amy Zehnder, managing director and leadership and legacy consultant at Ascent Private Capital Management of U.S. Bank, told me in MarketWatch’s recent “Mastering Your Money” series that families often stumble awkwardly into such conversations. “Kids don’t want to ask, because they are afraid of coming across as greedy,” she said. “Be curious and understanding about how it works, and not ‘what’s in it for me.’”

The document will be filed with the probate court upon your mother’s passing. You can access the document through the probate court and/or through the family’s attorney. The court clerk should be able to help you find the case number and hearing dates, if you supply your mother’s name and the date of her death.

Failing that, you can ask your stepfather. If he is good enough to inform you about your mother’s will, he should be willing to share the will’s contents after your mother passes.

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