Join 3,441 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Fuck death
November 18, 2009 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Both of my wife's parents died. Her dad first in January, now her mom in September. My wife is the oldest child. No will was left. What do we do?

I tried this question before but I put way too much information on it and I had to get it removed. I thought we'd figured out what steps to take, but we're back at square one. There's several properties, several vehicles, life insurance policies, monies in bank accounts, bonds, et cetera. My questions are;
1. Is there any way to do this without a lawyer?
2. If not, is there cheap or free legal counsel I can find online or where we live, in Arizona?
3. What should we be expecting in the way of hurdles? Probate, taxes, things like that.

I don't know. I'm hyper-depressed. I really didn't want to handle all of this shit and with all the family in-fighting, I wish the state would take it all. However, my wife has a vested interest I guess, so here I am. Please help Mefi.

(I'm in AZ)
(If your an attorney who can help me, please, by all means, drop me an e-mail)
posted by Bageena to Law & Government (24 answers total)
 
Unfortunately, this is something you really need a lawyer for - especially considering the family in-fighting. Assume that the siblings are lawyering up and act accordingly.

Also, I want to express my deepest sympathies for you and your wife - I remember your question involving her father's death. I hope next year is better for you.
posted by Ruki at 6:03 PM on November 18, 2009


My advice is simple.

Lawyer, Lawyer, Lawyer.

I know it sounds like you're just giving money, but I ASSURE you with multiple siblings involved, the easiest thing to do is hire a lawyer and let them sort it all out. They are very experienced in this and many will defer payment in the case of inheritance.

Seriously. Lawyer. it is the only way to make things clean. I've watched so many families with great intentions attempt it, but really there's so much daunting inheritance law that you need a lawyer to help you. Please. Lawyer it up.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 6:04 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


You need a lawyer. Else the probate court will divvy up the assets as it sees fit, and your wife (and you) may not be happy with the results.
posted by dfriedman at 6:05 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately I think you really need a lawyer. Here is the MeFi wiki page on how to get a lawyer, including resources that might help you find contingency or low-cost assistance.

I am very sorry about your losses.
posted by lalex at 6:06 PM on November 18, 2009


1. Is there any way to do this without a lawyer?

Sure. However, if any of the siblings decides to be a dick then you'll find that each of them will need their own lawyer. And the sibling won't necessarily think that s/he is being a dick. This is already a bad time, and any old resentment about being excluded or dominated may come to the fore.

This website seems to have a lot of relevant information and articles.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:15 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


The family is going to want a lawyer to help with all of the paperwork, notices, taxes etc. involved in probating an estate. Otherwise, if the person doing the work messes up, he or she would be personally liable. The distribution of assets will follow Arizona law (IANAL but I think dfriedman is wrong that a lawyer can change the distribution unless your wife or someone else wants to try to disinherit someone else.) The ideal would be if the family can agree to hire just one lawyer who work on behalf of the estate and do all of the work and distribute assets according to the law. There may still be things to fight about (ex: does everyone all own a share a vacation house or do they sell it and split the money). The lawyer will get paid out of the estate funds. A good lawyer will do his or her best to set things up to reduce conflict and to make it clear when the family has an option and when they have to follow the law.

If you google Arizona Probate you will see that the simplest (and cheapest) is an informal probate which basically means that the representative of the estate does their job as long as no one objects in lieu of what can turn into a full-blown court case. So if the family can manage to agree on one lawyer to do the work they will save themselves lots of money and lots of aggravation.

Good luck to you and your wife. It can be so hurtful when a parents death brings out the worst in some of the children.
posted by metahawk at 6:41 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are many areas of the law in which an intelligent layperson can achieve favorable results using only a DIY guide and the internet.

Really and truly, probate is not one of those areas. The estate needs a lawyer, you and your wife need a lawyer and probably all the siblings need lawyers. In the end, though, that's good news. There will be a highly-trained professional to take of all the grunt work for you, shoulder the load and take the blame if anything gets screwed up. He or she can also help with the family dynamics.

Sorry for your loss. Death can really bring out the worst in people; hopefully the family will be able to navigate without getting too acrimonious.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:43 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was going to suggest just selling everything and splitting it equally until you got to that little tidbit about "family infighting," so...have a disinterested party deal with it. i.e. lawyer.
posted by rhizome at 6:49 PM on November 18, 2009


I'm sorry for you and your wife's loss. I'm recently dealing with the death of my father and even with our circumstances, as my mother is still alive and I am the only child, I am learning why estate planning is so important.

Try contacting your local county or state bar association for referrals. A quick search on the AZ state bar shows some info on free legal clinics here. However, maximum household salaries often apply for such free legal aid.
posted by NikitaNikita at 7:05 PM on November 18, 2009


I remember your question as well, and really wish the best to both of you. I think you owe yourself a lawyer. Look how much prolonged stress has been involved so far. You can pay someone else to deal with this stress. Trust me, this is the true reason you make money.
posted by sickinthehead at 7:34 PM on November 18, 2009


Others have answered the bigger question admirably so I will simply add something else you should do:

Make sure you have a will. Even if you don't have kids or whatever. Doesn't matter and you'll just stick language like "and any future children" into the thing.
posted by Justinian at 7:34 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Your mother-in-law died Intestate, meaning without a will. Each state handles this slightly differently. A lawyer will make this a lot easier and will help smooth over feelings of future unfairness. Here's some internet info on Arizona intestacy laws.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:50 PM on November 18, 2009


Nthing getting a lawyer. They know the laws and the process, plus will handle all the crap no one has the time or desire to do. Presuming your wife's parents had some assets, the cost should be covered by part of the estate.
posted by katemcd at 8:00 PM on November 18, 2009


Nthing lawyer....and I'm sorry for your loss. My godfather died intestate in the early '70's, then my godmother made a will and killed herself six weeks later, naming my father executor. It took him six years to untangle the mess. This was in CA.
posted by brujita at 8:11 PM on November 18, 2009


I'm sorry that your family is going through this right now. I, too, remember your previous question, and while another, related site has been mentioned, I just wanted to re-post this link in case it's helpful in finding legal assistance, especially on an income-sensitive basis. My thoughts are with you all!
posted by sarabeth at 8:17 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm an attorney with some experience in this area. Seek competent local counsel in your jurisdiction. Contact your local bar association, or better yet, speak to a lawyer you are friends with and ask him or her for a referral.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:46 PM on November 18, 2009


I was going to suggest just selling everything and splitting it equally until you got to that little tidbit about "family infighting," so...have a disinterested party deal with it. i.e. lawyer.

I must hasten to point this out to anyone reading this thread: doing what is suggested here is illegal and possibly criminal. Do not take any advice in this thread other than advice to see a lawyer in your jurisdiction.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:53 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Did her parents die in Arizona too? I think everyone's assuming that to be the case, but all you said was that you and your wife live there. Where they died is going to matter, so much so that simply engaging an Arizona lawyer might not be much help if either of them died in another state. It gets even more complicated if the property, especially the real estate, is located in yet another state.

Things will be much easier if your wife and her siblings, especially if all of them are alive, can agree on what to do with the property. Any disagreement pretty much guarantees opening probate on both estates. (edit-- I just noticed your mention of squabbling among the family. So much for something informal and cheap. Now it's a question of whether the property is worth more than what a competent probate lawyer is going to charge to probate an intestate estate. It won't be cheap, especially with an heirship or property distribution fight. Sorry.)

Whatever state they died in, I suggest approaching the problem pragmatically-- what needs to be done to pass title to whoever should get it? The answer can be different for each type of property. The life insurance proceeds don't need to pass through probate unless the beneficiary is the estate of the insured. Car titles can be passed more informally in some states than in others, depending on the state where the vehicles are titled. The person who suggested simply selling everything speaks from profound ignorance-- while untitled personal property could be sold that way, something more formal will be required for the cars and the real estate. Unless something is done, the real estate will simply be unsalable for the period of time set out in that state's adverse possession statutes, and then you'll get to pay a lawyer a lot of money to bring quiet title litigation so it can be sold.

But your initial problem is one of domicile-- where did the in-laws live when they died? That state's laws will primarily govern, and if you hire a lawyer, you need one from that state.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 9:17 PM on November 18, 2009


I'm sorry to hear about your and your wife's loss.

I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Furthermore, I do not practice estate law, nor am I licensed in Arizona.

That said, I agree with pretty much everyone else: Consider that everyone involved is under stress from two closely-spaced parental deaths, there are a bunch of different kinds of assets to sort out ("several properties, several vehicles, life insurance policies, monies in bank accounts, bonds, et cetera"), your wife's parents left no wills, and there's "family in-fighting."

You need a lawyer. Not only so you can be sure everything was done properly, but also so you can get some distance from the minutiae of the process and spend more time dealing with the grief than you do administering the estate. Some people find that therapeutic, but the tone of your question suggests you aren't among them, and that your wife isn't either. Naturally, a good lawyer will let you be as involved or uninvolved as you wish. I think there's a piece on Nolo Press's website about how to work with a lawyer, but I'm not sure where it is.

As far as how to get one, recommendations from family, friends, or colleagues are generally a good start. You could also call your local law school or search Martindale, the ABA's directory of legal referral services, or their directory of bar associations.
posted by tellumo at 9:28 PM on November 18, 2009


I'm sure you're convinced by now, but I thought I'd toss out that I once nearly bought a house from a family that didn't hire a lawyer when Mom died without a will. The kids disagreed about what to do with the house. It was rented out, but nobody lived nearby or took responsibility for it; maintenance was left to the tenants or not done at all. Eleven years after the death, some of the kids had long-since stopped speaking to each other. The house had fallen into serious disrepair. Rain trickled into the living room. Much of the plaster was on the floor instead of the walls.

Compared to the disintegration of house and family, a lawyer's fees would've seemed insignificant.
posted by jon1270 at 3:17 AM on November 19, 2009


>There's several properties, several vehicles, life insurance policies, monies in bank accounts, bonds, et cetera

This, and the offhand comment about "all the infighting", makes me wonder why you want a "cheap or free" lawyer.

She needs a good lawyer, not a "cheap or free" lawyer. The lawyer will be paid from the estate property, not by your wife.
posted by yclipse at 4:52 AM on November 19, 2009


Nothing will destroy your faith in family and humanity faster than settling an estate that was left in a mess or never even set up. I'm in the middle of my second family debacle estate #2 right now, and at this point I've seen so much venom and evil behavior from people who apparently spent their entires live pretending to get along that it's completely warped my view of the world.

You need a firewall to escape this with any sanity left. Lawyer. Now.

And if you don't have one, please take the time to make a will for yourself and spare everyone else this. Seriously.
posted by Pufferish at 7:25 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Things will be much easier if your wife and her siblings, especially if all of them are alive, can agree on what to do with the property. Any disagreement pretty much guarantees opening probate on both estates

Again, do not listen to any advice given by anyone on this thread, purported lawyer or not, other than advice to hire a lawyer. As I indicated earlier, you cannot "agree" after the death of a party to just divy up the assets.

See AZ code 14-2101 for more.

Seek a competent attorney in your jurisdiction.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:37 AM on November 19, 2009



This, and the offhand comment about "all the infighting", makes me wonder why you want a "cheap or free" lawyer.

She needs a good lawyer, not a "cheap or free" lawyer. The lawyer will be paid from the estate property, not by your wife.


It's only because I really, really, really would rather just grieve and be sad then think about this stuff. I don't want any of the houses or the cars, nor do I expect for or hope for any money. I know my wife has sentimental value to some things though, which is why I asked for help.

The good news is that I listened and we got a lawyer this morning. The accident (and the attorney) was all in Arizona.

Thanks for all your help guys. As always, appreciated.
posted by Bageena at 2:01 PM on November 19, 2009


« Older Middle School book club for ad...   |  Why does one cup of coffee mak... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.