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Ely, Counselor at Law
Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 102145
Experience:  Fully licensed attorney in Texas in private practice.
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My mother passed in March. My stepfather passed in September.

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My mother passed in March. My stepfather passed in September. I was never adopted by him. I am not being allowed to get mothers property that she had before she met my stepfather. Her hope chest, china, etc., that she had when she married my biological father who is also dead. Am I entitled to get her belongings before there is a garage sale and the house is sold?
Hello friend. My name is XXXXX XXXXX welcome to JustAnswer. Please note: (1) this is general information only, not legal advice, and, (2) there may be a slight delay between your follow ups and my reply.

I am very sorry for your loss and your situation. Can you please tell me:

1) Was there probate filed on your mother's estate?
2) Was there probate filed on your stepfather's estate?
3) Did either of them have a will?
4) If they did, did you receive anything under either will, or not, or, not sure?

This is not an answer, but an Information Request. I need this information to answer your question. Please reply, so I can answer your question. Thank you in advance.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

They both have wills. My mothers states that everything goes to Ralph, in the event of his death everything would go to me, stepfather but he survived her by 6 months, died on Sept. 23rd, so was alive to "take possession" of her things. I have received some money from her estate but not everything is finalized yet. I don't know what if anything Ralph left me. He was very wealthy and it will be awhile before his estate is completed. They also had a house in Florida. I dont know what you exactly mean by probate being filed? Does that mean the wills have been processed and finalized?

Thank you, D.

I will answer all your questions and will tie up all loose ends, however, I need a little more clarification. You stated that they both had wills. However, you have not seen his will - correct?

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Correct, my mom told me years ago that he put me in his will...but I really don't know.

Thank you, D.

I have a lot to cover here, so please forgive the momentary wait as I am typing out my answer now...
Default Rules of Succession versus Will
When someones passes away, their property is distributed. If there is no will, then the property is distributed by default rules - see here. However, if there is a Will, then, the property is distributed per the Will which overrides the default rules.

In your mother's will, everything went to Ralph (who I am guessing is the stepfather). As such, everything went to him. You do not get to take any of her property, I am afraid.

Probate is the process of distribution of property under the guidance of the court.

The problem is that without probate - with assets such as titled property or bank accounts - this is hard to do. This is because you cannot switch over the assets without an order from the probate court, and simply a Certificate of Death will not do. A Certificate of Death simply states that someone has passed on, but does not give you the right to really do anything in the deceased's name.

In addition, an Executor is needed to neutrally distribute non-titled property to whoever gets it under the will (or default rules, if there is no will).

So one files probate. Once probate is filed, the Executor of the estate gets something called a Letter of Testament/Administration (hereinafter "Letter"). This Letter will allow the Executor to switch over the assets from the deceased individual to whoever will own the property. It is like a "Power of Attorney," but from the Court. Without that Letter, there is no way to transfer titled and non-titled property and switch the assets into beneficiaries' hands.

Your Case
1) Your mother left everything to Ralph;
2) Ralph passed away.
3) Did his will leave anything to you?

You do not know, because you have not seen the will. Any interested person of the deceased can demand to see a copy of the will and/or, file probate themselves if the executor does not file it. So someone in your situation may wish to demand to see a copy of the will, and file probate (or attach themselves to it) if necessary if you do not get one, or get one which shows you as a beneficiary but you are not getting anything. The Judge will then direct the Executor to follow the will properly.

An attorney is recommended to do this. Probate can be quite tricky. This may actually only even need a demand letter; the rest may be settled quickly without litigation. May I recommend the NJ Bar referral program - here. The attorneys are vetted and qualified. You should be able to find an attorney you are confident with and whom you can trust, and who is available ASAP.

I dont know what you exactly mean by probate being filed?

See above.

Does that mean the wills have been processed and finalized?

Not necessarily. You do not know if they have YET to file probate, HAVE filed probate, or, have FILED AND CONCLUDED the probate (and if so, you can reopen it).

I hope this helps and clarifies. Good luck.

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Ely and 8 other Estate Law Specialists are ready to help you
Thank you for your gratuity.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

You are welcome.

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