Q. My wife’s mother passed away in August 2019 and to our knowledge there has been no will leaving my wife and brother as heirs. Two days after his death, his brother’s girlfriend, who owns a funeral home and has taken care of the cremation, told my wife that because there was no will giving instructions on the arrangements funeral – her mother wanted to be cremated – she needed my wife’s signature to do the cremation. My wife signed some papers – I don’t know what they were – and it was her last contact with her brother and his girlfriend. My wife’s mother owned a townhouse, which we learned had been sold in December 2019. How could her brother sell the townhouse without my wife’s permission? What am I forgetting here? Could there have been a lien on the property that we did not know about?
– try to help
A. We are sorry to hear about your mother-in-law and these problems with her brother.
You may be faced with many issues.
Start with a request to the surrogate mother in the county where her mother lived at the time of her death, said Catherine Romania, estate planning lawyer at Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.
The surrogate will be able to tell your wife if her brother has been appointed administrator of her mother’s estate and, if so, what documents have been filed for him to become the administrator, Romania said.
“As his two children, your wife and brother would have had equal rights to serve as administrator of your mother-in-law’s estate,” she said. “However, your wife may have signed a waiver of her right to serve in addition to the authorization to have her mother cremated.”
You said there is no will, but the surrogate will also be able to tell your wife if there is one that has been filed and probated.
Real estate records for your mother-in-law’s property can also be searched, Romania said, and most allow it online.
“The real estate records will show whether your mother-in-law donated the property before her death and, if not, who signed the deed of your mother-in-law’s estate and whether there were any liens on the property,” she declared. noted.
Romania said deciding what, if anything, to do with your new acquaintances may be more difficult than getting the information.
“If there was an administration started, notice to all heirs is required and there are time limits from such notice to take action,” Romania said. “Even without such notice, however, in the absence of fraud, generally waiting two years from death to take action is considered a significant delay.”
You should speak with a lawyer specializing in estate litigation to learn about your options and consider the chances of success for your wife to receive what could be 50% of the estate.
Email your questions to [email protected].
Karin Price Mueller writes on Bamboo column for NJ Advance Media and is the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Follow NJMoneyHelp on Twitter @NJMoneyHelp. Find NJMoneyHelp on Facebook. Register for NJMoneyHelp.com‘s weekly electronic newsletter.