Sorry in advance if these questions are inappropriate here.
My father died in California, July 2010 intestate, survived by a wife (of 2nd marriage), with myself and my brother both from 1st marriage.
In terms of what he owned that needs distribution, there is nothing complicated. The current wife is the possible complication...Who only now writes a summary email, informing us their 2 houses were owned in joint tenancy w/right to survivorship. She says that his 401k, bank accounts/CDs/IRA and life insurance name her as sole beneficiary.
She lists no personal effects. She does tell us that some stocks will form the estate to be distributed between us.
She wishes to use the affadavit route to clear this matter.
-- Does she legally have to provide evidence of her statements as to joint tenancy, sole beneficiary?
-- Can these statements be challenged (even if she provides evidence to back up her claims)? If so, does it form a process outside the actual inheritance distribution?
-- There is, as far as I know, no court-lodged process as of now. I believe she is just handling this herself, informally. Should there be a formal process?
-- Would using the affadavit route for the stocks negate any (separate/subsequent) right to challenge her as sole beneficiary?
-- Legally, is she supposed to provide a list of his personal effects? (summary, detailed, with approximate values?)
-- Is she in control of which attorney is used for any legal procedure?
-- Is she legally required to tell us now of exactly what fees she (may) and/or the attorneys charge the estate for administration?
2 Answers from Attorneys
The ownership of the real estate is a matter of public record. You should be able to go online and find either the county recorder's or the county assessor's website for the county the real estate is in and see how title to the real estate is held. Most counties will allow you to access this information for free. Some may charge a fee.
The banks and 401k custodians may not talk to you. However, if they give her the money and she is not listed as the sole beneficiary they face liability.
Often in probate proceeding the personal effects are not worth much. But they could be. It all depends on what your father had. Most used clothing and most used furniture is not worth much. But there could be valuable antiques, jewelry, coins, guns, etc. You are probably in a good position to know if your father likely had a lot of valuables.
Although I am licensed in California as well as Nevada I limit my probate practice to Nevada. Accordingly, I suggest you consult with a California attorney, perhaps, after you determine title to the real estate and have had time to consider what personal possessions of value your father might have had.
You have raised a number of important and, potentially, complicated questions. Situations such as these do not lend themselves to quick answers on a site such as this. I recommend that you sit down with a qualified estate attorney as soon as possible, and definitely before signing anything, to review your situation. Please feel free to call us to do so.