State of Utah ignores dead man's will, instead redistributes his wealth

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(KUTV) - Charlene Stahura's father passed away a decade ago but she is still trying to settle his estate. The state of Utah is holding onto about $750 that Charlene says should be going to her sisters and herself. That jives with what her dad put in his will.

The state is ignoring the will.

Utah officials are insisting the money rightfully needs to be divided equally between all of Charlene’s siblings.

The friction all stems from the fact that Charlene's dad's will was never probated. A will being probated allows a judge to declare the will valid, as well as allows anyone who feels they deserve to make a claim on an estate the opportunity to do so. Utah law has specific rules about what happens to the money of a deceased person if there is not a probated will. Generally speaking, without a surviving spouse, the money gets divided equally among the deceased’s children.

But that’s Utah law.

Charlene’s dad never lived in Utah and he died in Arizona where there is no law requiring a will to be probated if the estate is below a certain value. The only reason the state of Utah has any of the money is because an insurance company sent a payout to Charlene but it went to an old address.

Charlene says it's really not about the money. It's about honoring her dad's wishes. If Utah gets its way and divides the money evenly, than portions of it will go to people who specifically were excluded by her dad from his will. If he were living, Charlene says her dad would be, "pissed off."

Dennis Johnston, who runs Utah’s Unclaimed Property Division, says his hands are tied. His division is bound by state law to ignore a non-probated will.

“[A will is] not enforceable under Utah law unless it's gone through the probate process, and it's proven to be valid and to be used to distribute the decedents property,” he said.

Worse, it’s too late to do that. Utah law also says that a will must be probated within three years.

“We use the Utah law which says everybody who's a blood heir basically gets their fair share, a piece,” Johnston said.

Johnston says the state will continue to hold the money indefinitely until it is claimed by each of the legally entitled owners.

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