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My stepmother died this year in California. Her spouse was

predeceased and she left no...
My stepmother died this year in California. Her spouse was predeceased and she left no will and no administrator was indicated or appointed. She had less than $15k in assets and no property. As the step daughter I was able to access her bank accounts. Am I responsible to petitioning the court to become her administrator since I received her assets?
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Answered in 5 minutes by:
8/1/2013
ScottyMacEsq
ScottyMacEsq, Attorney
Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 17,512
Experience: Licensed Texas General Practice Attorney
Verified

ScottyMacEsq :

Thank you for using JustAnswer. I am researching your issue and will respond shortly.

ScottyMacEsq :

Were you designated as the beneficiary of these accounts?

Customer:

I was not designated the beneficiary. There was no beneficiary. I waited 40 days with the bank and then I had to sign an affidavit and they gave me the money.

ScottyMacEsq :

Without a will, why would you be entitled to this money? There was not a "pay on death" order, correct?

Customer:

Correct there was not a "pay on death" order. Since she had no other known family I was able to receive because I am the step daughter.

ScottyMacEsq :

Generally speaking, stepchildren do not have very strong rights to inherit. Even stepchildrenthat are treated like natural born or adopted children, without a will, can only inherit under the laws of intestate administration. In California, Probate Code 6402 provides that stepchildren take only after all relatives of the second collateral lines, that being all relatives descended from the grandparents of the deceased stepparent. Some states, including California, have provided additional intestacy rights for stepchildren to property which the deceased stepparent inherited from the stepchild's natural parent, but only where the stepparent dies without surviving spouse or issue.

ScottyMacEsq :

If you can show that your stepmother had no cousins or other living relatives from her grandparents, could you then legally take possession of these assets.

ScottyMacEsq :

Now that being said...

ScottyMacEsq :

You're under no obligation to file for probate.

ScottyMacEsq :

Probate is where there's a necessity for administration.

ScottyMacEsq :

(changing title to vehicles, real estate, etc...)

ScottyMacEsq :

You can take possession of these assets, and absent someone with a greater claim coming and making a claim, you could "own" them.

ScottyMacEsq :

You've probably heard that "possession is 9/10ths of the law". True ownership is the other 1/10, but if the legal heir(s) do not show up to claim it, you can claim it as your own.

ScottyMacEsq :

Just note, however, that this would be risky. If there were to be some cousin, or aunt / uncle, etc... (an heir of your stepmother's grandparents) they could legally claim this and have priority over you.

Customer:

Ok so, I hearing you say that even though I received her assets, I am not responsible to file for probate and become administrator of her estate. In addition, I am not responsible to file her final taxes. Is this correct? My concern is do I have to file her taxes.

ScottyMacEsq :

No, you don't have to. The IRS might send letters inquiring as to the taxes, etc... but you're under no obligation to file it (since you're not the legal administrator of the estate).

Customer:

Since nobody will be filing her taxes, is it likely the state will find out that I received her less than 12K in assets?

ScottyMacEsq :

That's hard to say. IT would really depend on what information is sent from the bank (because most of these assets are post tax anyway, so only any interest would be taxable). There's no inheritance tax, and the estate tax starts at $5 million, so there's not going to be any taxes due because of her death.

ScottyMacEsq :

The only taxes that would be due would be on the interest (if any) earned on that money in the accounts.

ScottyMacEsq :

Hope that clears things up a bit. If you have any other questions, please let me know. If not, and you have not yet, please rate my answer AND press the "submit" button, if applicable. Please note that I don't get any credit for my answer unless and until you rate it a 3, 4, 5 (good or better). Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX luck to you!

Customer:

One last quick question, how many years does the state have to come back to me on this?

ScottyMacEsq :

20 years.

Customer:

Yikes, okay thank you.

ScottyMacEsq :

(but most of the time they don't go after "small fries" situations)

ScottyMacEsq :

My pleasure.If you have any other questions, please let me know. If not, and you have not yet, please rate my answer AND press the "submit" button, if applicable. Please note that I don't get any credit for my answer unless and until you rate it a 3, 4, 5 (good or better). Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX good luck to you!

ScottyMacEsq
ScottyMacEsq, Attorney
Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 17,512
Experience: Licensed Texas General Practice Attorney
Verified
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ScottyMacEsq
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Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 17,512
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