Estate Law Questions? Ask an Estate Lawyer.
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I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I know it is very frustrating. Unfortunately your understanding is correct: property that is owned jointly between two or more people (including husband and wife) passes automatically to the surviving joint owner(s) at the time of the other owner's death. That property does not pass through a probate estate, so the terms of any will or not relevant. The reason that a person might still have a will though is because there are sometimes properties that were missed or were intentionally not owned jointly with someone else. Wills can also direct wishes for burial and other measures that might need to be addressed at death.
So, if all the property was owned jointly, then you would unfortunately not be entitled to any of that property. The surviving joint owner (your step-mother) would own that property. If, however, there is any property that was in your father's name only, then that property would be a part of his probate estate (unless a pay/transfer-on-death beneficiary was named). In that case, the terms of your father's will would be relevant and you would be entitled to 1/2 that property.
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Thank you for your reply. It is, unfortunately, not the answer I was hoping for but also not unexpected. Is there anyway that I can search for assets that may be held by my father individually that may not be otherwise known. Also, does the will need to be filed or should it just be discarded. Thank you again.
If there are no assets to be probated, there is no need to file the will. As far as searching for assets in his name only -- there are only a couple of options: 1) search public records for any land owned in his name only. Sometimes that can be done online but it depends on the state and county and whether they maintain their records online. If not, then searching the actual public records at the site is necessary unless a clerk is willing to help by phone. Most property ownership is not public record, though, so finding ownership depends on having access to records, which means going through your step mother. If she won't cooperate, the only way to really gain access is opening a probate and going on a fishing expedition after you gain access to the records (as representative of his estate). Again, I really wish there was good news I could give you but the law doesn't provide an easy means to search property ownership. I'm sorry. Please do let me know if there's any other information you need. Thanks.
Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX been most helpful! Ann
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