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Step father stole deceased mothers insur..

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Junior Member
What is the name of your state? CA
My mother passed away suspiciously in 1990- the police said they couldn't do anything because her husband had her cremated immediately. I was 22 and did not have any legal guidance, so I went to a lawyer Stephen E. Lawton (disbarred in 2003) gave him $1000- money that I didn't have. A paralegal called me a couple of times to ask me the stepfathers name etc. Other than that I didn't even get phone calls returned from Stephen Lawton.
My mother kept all of her insurance policies in my sister & my names, I was on her bank accounts not him. She had her house in her name as sole & separate property. She had recently sold the home and had the cash in the bank-I was told that since its cash it is no longer sole & separate but a part of community property. I was told by her husband that because he is the surviving spouse he is entitled to everything despite my name being on the accounts. I got furniture that had been our great grandmothers. How do I find out how this happened. I have recently found out that when someone dies and leaves property it is supposed to go through probate. Is it true that with insurance if it is paid in payments that it goes to the spouse and not the designated person? My name was the beneficiary- his was not and the county of LA (my mom worked for the county of Los Angeles since she was 18)told me that he/husband got it because it was made in payments, that I would get it if it was lump sum. From what I remember it was about $400K
?1- Is there anyway for me to look up had it was distributed? if so how?
?2- Is there any way to recoup?
?3- He has no children- When he dies am I entitled to anything since he took all my mothers money?
(he seriously was living in a garage/out of his car when they met)
Thank you in advance
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Dandy Don

Senior Member
Why did you wait so long to look into this? I'm very concerned that a statute of limitations may prevent you from pursuing anything, but maybe your case has some exceptions.

Since you were named on the account as either co-account owner or beneficiary, the bank should never have released this money to anyone else but you. Why didn't you check with the bank right after the death occurred? How much money did the home sell for?

I'm only speculating, but it seems like your stepfather may have gotten POA to handle your mother's financial affairs and if he presented that document to the bank they could have released the money to him. What you were told about it being community property may or may not be true.

As far as the insurance, it seems like what you were told is not true or misleading. You need an attorney or some other friend/family member who is business savvy to ask the company about this to find out more specifically what actually happened and to find out whether stepfather submitted a change of beneficiary designation form to change beneficiary from your name to his--if he did this using the POA then this is fradulent (called abuse of POA) and he can be sued to return this money back. Since you were gullible enough to believe what the county of Los Angeles told you about the insurance (I wonder if they were talking about the insurance specifically or pension/retirement benefits), you need them to provide documents to back up what they say so you can understand it better or have someone else ask them on your behalf.

Go to the county courthouse probate court for the city where your mother died (if you don't know where that courthouse is, mention the city where she died here and I can look up the address and phone number for the courthouse for you), and inquire to see whether anyone filed a probate action for her or not (do you even know if she had a will?). If there is a file, get copies of all documents in her file so you can have something to present to an attorney to review your situation and also so you can understand what happened with her estate.

As a surviving spouse, your stepfather was entitled to a certain portion of the estate, but if there was anything left over you should also have shared. It looks like you were cheated out of your share of this estate, but the details will have to be looked at before a definite determination can be made.

DANDY DON IN OKLAHOMA ([email protected])


Junior Member
Dandy Don Thank you for your reply. Here are the answers to your questions

I waited because I thought what was done was done. (He was a very evil man glad out of my life) Recently my husband thought I should look into being his survivors when he passes.

I was 21 and had NO ONE to give me any guidance- the ONLY person who did referred me to the croocked lawyer "Steven E. Lawton" I looked him up on the bar website a few days ago and he was disbarred for doing the same thing to someone else as he did to me- Take the money without doing any work.
I think the stepfather took her ATM and drained the account, He made me think that it was HIS money since they were married- I was too naive to realize that legally I should've been the one to empty the account since I was on the account. I don't know how much the house sold for my guess would be $100K??

Since posting this I have found out the reason that he was able to collect the money and not us the beneficiaries is because in CA, if a person other than the spouse is designated as the beneficiaries the spouse must sign a release that they agree to the money going to someone else- he never signed it. I wonder though if she set all of this up prior to her marriage to him, shouldn't the county have informed her that her wishes were no longer valid without his signature?

She died in Lancaster CA so I went to the Los County superior court probate website online and looked up her name- there was nothing there online.

My mother HAD a will, my sister knew about it, I knew about it(saw it), but of course HE said there was NOT a will. Who was I supposed to argue with that I thought there was a will? I had no contact with anyone but the stepfather who told me he was moving and would be throwing away all my mothers furniture & belongings and if I wanted anything to come get it. I took china and family furniture. That was that- he made me make a list of what items I took and sign it. I never got anything from his lawyer- I had no idea if I was supposed to do anything to fight it. Young and stupid -plain and simple. He was a bum living in his car in someones garage when they met- he made NO contributions to the house, my mother completely supported him/them. She was in a wheelchair and everytime she would get him to leave, he would make her pay him for "taking care of her". It was all psycological as my mother had worked and supported herself since she was 18 with the LA County as a case worker.

What do I do if there was not probate? There was nothing online.

Dandy Don

Senior Member
The probate records for 1990 will not be online. You need to go down to the courthouse or call them to ask them to do a manual search of the records to see if her name is on file.

Main thing you need to do is to be talking to an attorney to find out if the statute of limitations applies in your case or not. Would you have any way of checking with the bank to see if they could get account records for what happened to her account after she died, to prove how much money was in there? This is theft and I'm not sure whether there is a statute of limitations in California on that or not--perhaps a California attorney would care to comment on that. Only the executor was entitled to that money, to distribute legally to heirs. Also you need to ask how much of the home sale the husband was entitled to--I don't think that he was entitled to all of it and as a beneficiary you probably should have gotten some of that too, especially if there was no will.

DANDY DON IN OKLAHOMA ([email protected])

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