My mom died. Do I have a right to any of her property?


Q. When my mom died, my stepfather and his daughter took charge of the house and the property. The house was in mom’s and my stepfather‘s name and also they added my half-sister and her husband’s names to the deed. My name was not on anything. What can I do to see if they kept any money or property from me? All I received was a few pictures and they forbid me to come into the house.
— Daughter

A. We’re sorry to hear about your mom.

We’re also sorry that you’re not on the best terms with your mother’s husband and family.

First, you should find out if your mother left a will, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

She said you can check with the surrogate’s office in the county in which your mother lived at the time of her death.

“Some counties allow you to obtain the information online whereas in other counties, you must request this information in writing,” Romania said.

If your mother died leaving a will, as an heir, you should have received notice of the probate of the will, Romania said. If your mother did not have a will and your stepfather applied for letters of administration — to manage her estate — the surrogate will also have a record and again, as an heir, you should have received notice of his appointment as administrator, she said.

“If you are not named in the will or if all of the assets were held by your mother with your stepfather jointly and/or with anyone other than you as a named beneficiary, then you may not be entitled to any of your mother’s assets,” Romania said. “Nevertheless, your stepfather could give you personal items that belonged to your mother if you requested such items.”

If your mother did not have a will and there were assets that were not held jointly or did not have a beneficiary designated — therefore they had to pass through intestate administration — New Jersey law states that the surviving spouse is entitled to the first 25% of the intestate estate but not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000 and then one half the balance, Romania said. Then your mother’s surviving descendants are entitled to the balance, she said.

“If your stepfather is not willing to cooperate and you are to recover, you may need to consider litigation, which is expensive and not always beneficial,” Romania said. “Unfortunately, it is possible you may have waited too long to recover any of your mother’s belongings if they have already been disposed of.”

Email your questions to .

This story was originally published on Jan. 20, 2023. 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.