29 Dec My wife didn’t get her inheritance. What can we do about it?
Q. My wife’s mother died in August 2019 and as far as we know, there was no will leaving my wife and her brother as heirs. Two days after she died, her brother’s girlfriend, who owns a funeral home and handled the cremation, told my wife that because there was no will giving instructions on funeral arrangements — her mother wanted to be cremated — she needed my wife’s signature to do the cremation. My wife signed some papers — I don’t know what they were — and that was her last contact with her brother and his girlfriend. My wife’s mother owned a townhouse, which we learned was sold in December 2019. How could her brother sell the townhouse without my wife’s permission? What am I missing here? Could there have been a lien on the property we didn’t know about?
— Trying to help
A. We’re sorry to hear about your mother-in-law and these problems with her brother.
There are quite a few issues you may have to contend with.
Start with a request to the surrogate in the county where her mother lived at the time of her death, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.
The surrogate will be able to tell your wife if her brother was appointed as the administrator of her mother’s estate and, if so, what papers were filed for him to become the administrator, Romania said.
“As her two children, your wife and her brother would have had equal rights to serve as administrator of your mother-in-law’s estate,” she said. “However, your wife may have signed a renunciation of her right to serve in addition to permission to have her mother cremated.”
You said there was no will, but the surrogate will also be able to tell your wife if there was one that was filed and probated.
The real estate records for your mother-in-law’s property may also be searched, Romania said, and most allow for this online.
“The real estate records will show if your mother-in-law gifted the property prior to her death and, if not, who signed the deed from your mother-in-law’s estate and if there were any liens on the property,” she said.
Romania said deciding what, if anything, to do with your newly found knowledge may be more difficult than obtaining the information.
“If there was an administration begun, notice to all heirs is required and there are time limits from such notice to take action,” Romania said. “Even without such notice, however, absent fraud, generally waiting two years from the time of death to take action is considered a significant delay.”
You should speak to an attorney specializing in estate litigation to learn your options and examine the likelihood of success of your wife receiving what could be 50% of the estate.
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This story was originally published on Dec. 29, 2021.
NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.