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Dwayne B.
Dwayne B., Attorney
Category: Estate Law
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Experience:  Estate Law Expert
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Our (me, my adult brother and adult sister) elderly bio-father

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Our (me, my adult brother and adult sister) elderly bio-father passed away in April 2013. Our father had been remarried to another woman after our bio-mother died in 1974. Our father and step-mother both moved from Missouri to Arizona two years ago to be near me and my immediate family. When our father passed, our step-mother advised that our father had annotated his typewritten will and last testament with a pen amending that he wanted to be cremated instead of whole body burial; and the step-mother reported that she wanted our father buried at Jefferson Barracks National Memorial instead of being buried next to our bio-mother in the burial plot our bio-mother and father had arranged many years ago. My brother and sister and I resisted this since our father had told us verbally many times that he wanted to buried with our bio-mother (his name was even on the headstone next to our bio-mother's). So, the step-mother had our father cremated instead of whole body burial and gave us half of our father's cremated remains. The step-mother has decided to hold onto the other half and have our father sprinkled on the Pacific Ocean with the stepmother when she expires. My brother, and sister want his remains returned to us to buried in the family plot next to our mother, as was his instructions to us.
Although our father was a legal resident of Arizona, the stepmother contacted the lawyer in Missouri that had handled our father's legal matters for a number of years and had all estate and probate handled in Missouri. When we all gathered in Missouri for our father's funeral/memorial service the stepmother advised that there was estate funds left for my brother, sister and I; and that the stepmother had taken care of all the legal work and we didn't need to do anything. We asked for a copy of our father's will and last testament, and we compared it to the last will and testament our father gave to our sister years ago. There were differences that concern my sister, brother and I. As one of the designated beneficiaries I sent a letter to the lawyer handing our father's estate and probate, and requested a copy of the inventory of our father's estate. In that letter I included a copy of the will and last testament, the death certificate, a copy of my birth certificate and a copy of my state ID from AZ. This was over a month ago and the lawyer has yet to respond to the certified letter I had sent, with his signature on the return receipt indicating he had rec'd the letter. I guess the question I have, is do we as our father's children and beneficiaries of his estate have the right to see the inventory of his estate? Do we have a right to know how and to whom his estate was dispersed? And do we now need a lawyer to cajole the estate lawyer in Missouri to respond to and grant the request to view the inventory and dispersement of our father's estate? Frankly we are of the opinion that the stepmother had our father cremated so she could save money; that she willfully tried to prevent our family from burying our father with our mother; and that our step mother went against the our father's last will and testament and had funds from his estate dispersed to our adult step-sister and adult step-brother because their bio-father did not leave any support for them or our step-mother when her first husband died. Our step-mother's flippant attitude about using our father's estate to now go to the casinos, has angered the entire family across several states. We want to know what the disposition of our father's estate was' was it handled the way he wished; and what can we do to get the remainder of his remains returned to us so we can bury all of our father with our mother. Suggestions are welcomes.

JD 1992 :

Hello and thank you for contacting Just Answer. I am an expert here and I look forward to assisting you today. If at any point any of my answers aren’t clear please don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.

JD 1992 :

Your questions are:

JD 1992 :

do we as our father's children and beneficiaries of his estate have the right to see the inventory of his estate?

JD 1992 :

Do we have a right to know how and to whom his estate was dispersed?

JD 1992 :

And do we now need a lawyer to cajole the estate lawyer in Missouri to respond to and grant the request to view the inventory and dispersement of our father's estate?

JD 1992 :

It would actually make more sense to answer all of these at once. When I finish, please feel free to ask any follow ups that you have.

JD 1992 :

There is no automatic right to make anyone give you a copy of anything unless you open a probate or, if a probate is opened, intervene and appear in the probate case.

JD 1992 :

Your letter to the lawyer will likely go unanswered, since that is usually the case. He is under an obligation ONLY to the court, the estate, and whoever hired him, in this case your stepmother, and is under no obligation to provide anything to you or respond to you.

JD 1992 :

You are entitled to get copies to anything filed in the probate case but until you enter the case by intervening with your own lawyer you have to get those from the clerk of courts and there will be a slight charge from the clerk for any copies that are made.

JD 1992 :

If she filed for a probate through the courts you should have been notified in some way since you are potential heirs. However, sometimes people don't do this although they are supposed to.

JD 1992 :

You can also intervene in the probate case or open one if it isn't already open to challenge the will she has and to try and probate yours.

JD 1992 :

The probate court would also have jurisdiction over the ashes and the court is the only oen who can force her to turn over the ashes to you.

JD 1992 :

In shirt, to achieve everything you want to achieve you need to hire a lawyer to enter or file the probate case. If you just want to look at any documents that have been filed then you can contact the probate court clerk for the county in which the probate was filed, which would likely be the county in which he passed away or the county in which he was residing at the time of his death.

Customer:

I checked with the Maricopa County records in May 2013 since he died in April 2013, and there were no records of probate.

JD 1992 :

They may not have actually opened the probate then.

JD 1992 :

It may be that she has turned the stuff over to an attorney to have him open one.

JD 1992 :

If that is the case then you can apply to probate the will you have and let her respond with what she has.

JD 1992 :

However, you will also want to check with whatever county the lawyer is in in MO and see if there has been a probate filed there as well.

JD 1992 :

You need to be aware that the oral "wishes" of your father aren't binding and probably aren't admissible.

JD 1992 :

There is also a chance that any handwritten addendums may not be binding either.

JD 1992 :

The courts are extremely picky about handwritten items being admitted to probate.

JD 1992 :

AZ recognizes some handwritten wills but MO does not.

Customer:

I have been made aware that a man's wishes expressed to his siblings and their duty to honor those wishes are only as powerful as the paper they are written and notarized on. Apparently the amendments our father made to the his will and initialed are also being used as cause for our stepbrother/sister to receive funds from his estate. We are questioning the legality of this maneuver too.

JD 1992 :

A handwritten addendum should be struck out in MO. In AZ it isn't automatic, but the court will examine it to see if it is all in his handwriting, signed, if he was in his right mind, etc.

JD 1992 :

Did you have additional questions?

Customer:

My brother doubts the initialed addendum is our father's handwriting.

Customer:

Do you have anyone in mind for me to approach regarding checking with the courts in AZ; opening probate in AZ; and dealing with the lawyer and courts in MO?

JD 1992 :

Sorry, I got knocked offline for a minute.

JD 1992 :

No, we aren't allowed to give referrals but you can go to www.lawyers.com and look for someone where he lived and then search for those who do Probate Law.

Customer:

Thanks for the info you provided. I gotta get legal counsel on retainer or something. I have been running into too many legal issues lately that I never had before.

JD 1992 :

You probably don't need to put them on retainer, just develop a relationship with them. After a few issues they will start not charging you for simple things, discounting the time they bill you for, etc.

JD 1992 :

And then you can always use this website as a way to point you in the right direction.

JD 1992 :

Anything else before I exit to assist others?

Customer:

Thank you for your time. You have been very helpful.

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