January 12, 2018 • By Dennis Beaver
Shortly after her mother’s death, daughter learns that 25 years earlier mom hid from her a priceless, potentially life-altering educational opportunity. Can anything be done now – could a claim be made against mom’s estate — or is it too late to go back in time?
We’ll tell you the answer in a moment, but, first, let’s travel back to 1992 and meet Celeste, a bright high school student who has a highly competent, dedicated French teacher and her name is Vicki.
Speaking perfect French with a flawless accent, Vicki brings this language to life, becoming characters from history, showing up one day dressed as Napoleon, the next as Marie Antoinette, taking her students to a French restaurant and inspiring them to compete in a local educational foundation’s summer scholarship – one month studying in Lyon, France, all expenses paid.
As you guessed, Celeste entered the competition and won! Having the uncanny ability to mimic Vicki’s native accent, upon her return from France and meeting the foundation’s judges at a reception, all were blown away by this California kid who sounded like she just got off the boat from France.
“I can’t stand the thought of her moving away.”
The president of the foundation sent a letter, addressed to mother and daughter, which stated, “Celeste is gifted, and by accomplishing a major or minor in French, her incredible ability could lead to a job with the State Department, or in the business world, education, anywhere fluency in French is needed. We will pay for all language related expenses at any university she chooses to attend.
“We feel it our duty to do everything possible so that she can put this amazing ability to great use.”
And her mom, how did she react to this offer which could have changed the course of Celeste’s life in so many positive ways? How should any parent who wants a good education for their child reply?
“Oh, no! I can’t stand the thought of her moving away. She likes working with hair and I am going to pay for her to attend cosmetology school,” her mother wrote back, with these words in bold italics, “Leave Us Alone!”
“Mom never told me! I found it all by going through her diary.”
If you wonder whatever became of Celeste, well, mom got her wish. She became a hair stylist, never left her hometown, got married at a young age, and has three teenage daughters who she gave French names.
But Celeste never lost her interest in the language, studying on her own, even subscribing to French magazines. She reads this column online and dropped by the office a few days ago.
“Mom never told me about the offer to pay for my French studies, which was dated Aug. 1, my birthday, when I turned 18. I discovered all of this while reading her journal after she died two weeks ago. Mom wrote, ‘Must hide this from Celeste. I know it is not right, but she would move away and leave me alone. Must do everything to keep her in town.’
“Mr. Beaver. I loved my mother. She just couldn’t cope with the thought of being alone. Her will left almost all of her estate – $500,000 — to an animal shelter and grandchildren. Am I out of place in asking that some of that money be used so that I can take that trip to France she kept from me?
“Perhaps I still would have cut hair, but was cheated out of a chance to have a far different life.”
File a Claim against mom’s estate
We ran Celeste’s story by Bakersfield attorney Kurt Van Sciver. His practice focuses on trusts and estates litigation, so if anyone can provide her direction, he can.
“What a sad story, Dennis, I mean, just think of all the possibilities which she was denied.
This is a compelling case and here is my recommendation:
1. As probate allows creditors to be paid before assets of the decedent are distributed to beneficiaries, it is critical that Celeste file a Creditor’s Claim in the estate.
2. Celeste’s legal position would be that her mother violated a duty towards her by wrongfully withholding the offer.
3. Once filed, the personal representative of the estate will then have an opportunity to review the basis of the claim and decide whether it should be granted or denied.
4. If the claim is denied, Celeste will then need to bring a separate lawsuit against the estate.”
We gave that information to her with two additional recommendations: First, she must follow through on this as an example to her daughters of standing up to unfairness.
Second, to send us real postcards from France.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.