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Thomas McJD
Thomas McJD, Attorney
Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 6516
Experience:  Wills, Trusts, Probate & other Estate Matters
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My mother-in-law in Washington State died recently and left

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My mother-in-law in Washington State died recently and left no will. She has no assets, except a car worth maybe $750, a bank account (that my wife and I are co-signers on) with $1100, and a life insurance policy worth maybe $5000. Her furniture and personal effects aren't worth more than $500.

We don't have any urge to go into probate unless absolutely necessary, but I'm concerned about her creditors. I believe she owes around $5000 to various hospitals, phone companies, and medical centers. Would they be able to go after her car and personal property?

Is it more advisable to contact them and let them know of her death, or just ignore the situation altogether?


Hi, I will be happy to assist you, and it is my goal to make you a very satisfied customer! This may take a few minutes, so thanks for your patience.


Is the life insurance policy payable to named beneficiaries or her estate? Are you co-signers only or joint owners of the bank account?


The life insurance is payable to my wife only, not the estate and we are joint owners of the account, or I believe that's the term. We went into the bank yesterday and were able to close her savings and transfer the amount to checking without any paperwork, so I'm assuming that we are joint owners.


Yes, you were joint owners of the account if the bank allowed you to close the account and transfer funds. As such, your mother-in-law's interest terminated on her death and her creditors have no claim to those account funds. They also have no claim to the life insurance since it transferred automatically to your wife (the beneficiary) at the time of her mother's death).


Since the only other assets are household and the car (probably all worth less than $1,000, the creditors are not likely to take any action and the most appropriate plan is generally to just ignore the situation. You could use a small estate affidavit to transfer title to the vehicle but that requires you to make a statement via affidavit that debts have been paid or provided for. Thus, that something that will generally be left alone for several years until the statute of limitations on any debts she owes has run. At that time, those debts are unenforceable and title can then be transferred.


Good news, thank you very much.


You're very welcome.

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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Hi again. So another issue has come up with my mother-in-laws final affairs. We're wondering if we have to file a tax return for her. I'm thinking that since there is no will and no probate, there is no legal executor or administrator, so there's no one person legally responsible to do so. I'm sure she would have ended up getting a refund since she lived pretty close to the poverty line, but can you see any legal issues on our part if we don't file for her?





No, no one has to file for her if there is no executor or administrator and the only liability to any person might be if they take any property of hers and she owes taxes (in which case the IRS and state taxing authority could later go against that person that took property). Technically, though, a final income tax return should be filed for the final year she was alive through the date of death.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thanks much, now I can tell my brother-in-law to relax. :)

You're welcome
Customer: replied 4 years ago.



Okay, so now the next question that just came up is if she is due a refund, could one of the children file her taxes and then claim that refund, or will there be an issue with that like there would be with transferring the title to the car? Would the filer be able to claim the refund even though she still has outstanding debts on the estate?


This should be the last question, I hope. :)

The money would be in her name (i.e. part of her estate). Thus, you do have the same issue. You could use the small estate affidavit but debts have to be dealt with first. If that's not done properly, anyone that takes the money could find themselves in trouble with any creditors that found out and then pursued collecting the money from whoever took the tax return.

Generally, with additional questions like these, we like you to post a new question and request your expert (if you want to work with the same expert). JustAnswer works on a question by question basis so the experts can receive fair compensation for assisting with each separate question. But continuing in an existing Q&A thread is okay, but we experts to appreciate additional positive ratings when we've answered multiple questions. Thanks so much for understanding!

And do let me know if you need additional help. Thanks and have a great day!
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Sorry about the multiple questions in one thread, I wasn't quite sure how the system worked.


I just rated you again, so it appears that you should receive the compensation for an additional question, at least as far as I can tell. You've really been a big help, so thank you again for your time and expertise.

You're so welcome. I'm glad I could help. Yes, in the future, if you can post a new question and just make it to my attention -- like "To TMcJD only ..." and then request me from your account page that's the best way. But if all else fails, just post the question in the existing thread -- that works too! Again, have a good day.

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