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Hello and thank you for contacting us. This is Dwayne B. and I’m an expert here and looking forward to assisting you today. If at any point any of my answers aren’t clear please don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Also, I can only answer the questions you specifically ask and based on the facts that you give so please be sure that you ask the questions you want to ask and provide all necessary facts.
You should have been sending check made out to her estate the whole time. If a probate was done then your payments would have been an asset of the estate which should have been awarded to an heir by the court.
At this point there could easily be some issues that pop up regarding the payments that were made and who they were made to. You should strongly consider hiring a local lawyer and get them involved quickly so your interests are protected.
It's not guaranteed by any means.
The issue here is that you have been paying someone who, unless there is an order of the court, has no right to be paid. Basically, when someone dies all of their assets and debts now belong to a legal entity known as their "estate". The assets continue to belong to the estate until a judge says otherwise. Even if there is only one heir, the property still does not belong to them until a judge says it does by way of an order (or bay one of the information methods of probate).
So, essentially, there is no difference between you paying the sister and you paying neighbor. Neither of them have any ownership interest in the property.
The real issue arises if the person you have been paying has done something with the money and can't now turn it over to the heir after the court designates that person as the heir. The heir can sue to have the contract for land voided or else insist that you pay those amounts again. You can, of course, sue the sister for the money but it is an extra step.
I'm not saying any of this will happen just that it could happen. That's why you need a lawyer ASAP.
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