Estate Law Questions? Ask an Estate Lawyer.
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No. The moment someone dies it is no longer possible to have community property created. They can try but it doesn't actually convert the property.
Any heir could object to the inventory that she offers the court and then ask for the records of the bank accounts, etc. The dates showing on the records would then prove that they're not community property.
The only way to find out about the property is to do the research and discovery and you probably want to consider hiring a lawyer to help with that since it is pretty complicated. You should be able to be reimbursed for the cost of the lawyer from the estate.
If your father inherited property and there was a court proceeding then it would be public record in the probate court. The file would be in the name of "The Estate of (INSERT DECEASED NAME)".
Yes, property will generally refer to bank accounts as well as any other assets.
The courthouse would be the place to check for any documents related to probate. Specifically, there should be a clerk's office for the court that handles probate matters and they will have indexes and the files. All of those should be public records that you can look at as you choose.
The only reason to use a lawyer for the stepmother issues is because recreating what has occurred in moving assets and hiding assets is a matter of gathering records and then tracking them backwards and gathering more records. You do this using discovery and subpoenas and it can get extremely complicated unless you have done it a lot plus you have to get it in a form that is "admissible" or it can't be used in court.
I wouldn't mention this yourself to the lawyer, just have your lawyer mention it and they can do so in a way that hints you might take action against them. That avoids putting you into a position where the lawyer perceives you as threatening them and wanting to get back at you.
As to how to keep costs down, that's something you would have to discuss with whatever lawyer you hire. It depends on what needs to be done in the case, what he already has forms for, etc.