Nothing is certain but death, taxes, and heartless corporations
February 4, 2010 4:43 PM   Subscribe

How can we get into the apartment where my mother-in-law lived? My mother-in-law, Phyllis, was found dead of a heart attack in her apartment a week ago today. We live across town. There is no known will. We do not have a key to the apartment, nor does anyone else except the apartment management. We would like to enter the apartment to see if there's a will and to start going through her belongings. The manager says she can't let us in because the "management corporation" won't let her. We've tried calling the people above her, but they won't return our calls. We hired a lawyer. He has stressed the urgency of the situation to the apartment management, but they don't seem to be in a hurry to resolve this. What can we do?

Phyllis's apartment was paid up through Sunday, January 31. Tenants have a 4-day grace period each month, so that ends today. The apartment manager has indicated that they may begin eviction proceedings tomorrow if rent for February is not paid. Do you have any suggestions? I'm tempted to call the local TV stations to publicize the shady practices of the management corporation. This is especially difficult for my sisters-in-law, who live 1000 miles away.
posted by lukemeister to Law & Government (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you called the police? They might be able to assist.
posted by sio42 at 4:45 PM on February 4, 2010


We haven't called the police. Could you say more about what you had in mind?
posted by lukemeister at 4:46 PM on February 4, 2010

sio42, I mean. We're in Colorado, by the way.
posted by lukemeister at 4:47 PM on February 4, 2010

i think if you call the police and explain what happened, they might be able to go with you to the apt bldg and make the apt mgr open the door. kind of like other times on where people have needed to get stuff from an apt where there was a hostile roommate or something (of course, it was their stuff, but the owner of this stuff is deceased so next of kin should be ok. IANAL or a cop.)

provided you have a death certificate, the apt mgr can't really argue with you that she's dead and that you're trying to steal stuff. i would think there's some sort of precedent for this, i mean everyone dies eventually and not everyone owns a home (well even then, i think that this same situation would apply if no one else had a key.)

you need to get her things out and i would think the apt people would want you to take her stuff so they can rent the place. it's pretty weird they're being uptight about it.

i'm very sorry for your loss and the added stress of this, i know it just makes it worse.
posted by sio42 at 4:55 PM on February 4, 2010

The apartment manager has indicated he may begin eviction proceedings? Against whom?
posted by mr_roboto at 4:56 PM on February 4, 2010

Start calling locksmiths?

Note there's a huge difference between "starting eviction proceedings" and throwing all your late MIL's stuff on the street. The sheriff's involvement is required to actually evict someone, so you might wish to call the sheriff's office and explain the situation, to see if there is anything they can do for you.
posted by phoenixy at 4:58 PM on February 4, 2010

If there were sentimental items and mementos in there at risk of loss, quite frankly there's nothing that would stop me from coming by at 11 at night and kicking in the door. Obviously not a good idea if you're trying to keep things 100% above board, if there's a live-in employee living there keeping an eye on things, if there are nosy neighbors, or a potential war over the will later on with family, but it's one of those judgement calls that involve weighing losing property permanently due to the management company's ill will or negligence. If there's nothing important in there, then I wouldn't bother.
posted by crapmatic at 5:02 PM on February 4, 2010

also what sio42 said.
posted by crapmatic at 5:02 PM on February 4, 2010

The apartment manager has indicated he may begin eviction proceedings? Against whom?

Good question. The apartment is currently inhabited by my mother-in-law's parrot (which is being taken care of by the apartment management), but I'm pretty sure the bird can't come up with the money.

What I don't understand is why the management corporation is ignoring us. I could sort of understand why they didn't want to let us in before we had official looking papers from a lawyer, but not now. My mother-in-law lived there almost a decade, and there's no chance of anything of monetary value being in the apartment.
posted by lukemeister at 5:04 PM on February 4, 2010

actually, given what crapmatic just said, since it's likely others may notice the apt is "abandoned" you should call the sheriff RIGHT NOW because anyone else might decide to go kick the door in.

crapmatic is right - sentimental irreplaceable items are in there and you guys should be in there too.

so call the cops now and say just are concerned about her personal effects and someone breaking in the mean time
posted by sio42 at 5:06 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Get an order from the probate court or its equivalent. There are surely procedures in your jurisdiction for accessing the property of a decedent.
posted by seventyfour at 5:06 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

wait - the apt mgr has been going in there all this time?

are you SURE there isn't anything of value in there?

holy cow - not to be alarmist but seriously, call the cops now.
if you have all official lawylerly documents and they're not letting you in but letting themselves in, that's wrong (maybe not legally, but it should be.) she didn't give them permission to enter the apt to take care of the parrot did she?
posted by sio42 at 5:08 PM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

And I don't know how they would start eviction proceedings -- who would they serve with the suit? The tenant is deceased, and there isn't yet an executor or administrator of the estate to act as representative of the estate.
posted by seventyfour at 5:15 PM on February 4, 2010

I know it sucks, but perhaps pay rent for one more month with the understanding that they let you in (it will take a while to clear out the apartment, anyway).

Although, there might be a special circumstances law due to death that would allow you to gain access (and have a specific period of time to clear out her things). That's why should call the police /ask a lawyer.

When my dad died, we found out that there were special death related time periods and allowances recognized by the law, so definitely research your rights.
posted by marimeko at 5:15 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get an order from the probate court or its equivalent. There are surely procedures in your jurisdiction for accessing the property of a decedent.

Light a fire under your attorney's ass. He or she should have already gotten an order from the probate court.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:18 PM on February 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

You could go to the manager's office and ask what exactly they need to let you into the unit. If they have to call the management company, refuse to leave until they make that call in front of you.

Otherwise, yeah, go talk to the police and see if they can help you get access.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:18 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

to start going through her belongings

I think apartment management is ahead of you on this one.
posted by benzenedream at 5:19 PM on February 4, 2010 [7 favorites]

This website for a law office in Boulder states, "If you do not appoint a personal representative, or if you do not leave a will, then the court will appoint a personal representative to handle your estate." This answer from a lawyer to a question about someone dying without a will in Colorado says, "If a person doesn’t have a will with these instructions, an heir or interested party can file a form asking the court to appoint the person to be a personal representative," and then the lawyer points to the forms on the Colorado State Judicial Branch website.

Did your lawyer say that he would file a form at the courthouse for you to be the personal representative for the estate? With that appointment, you are free to enter her home and in fact it is your duty to secure her belongings, look for the will, and many other things -- and so, I would guess it would be starkly illegal for the apartment management to keep you out.
posted by Houstonian at 5:24 PM on February 4, 2010

The apartment manager isn't going in. A woman who does maintenance for the complex is feeding the bird. I really don't think they're taking stuff.

The apartment manager's first language is French, not English, and there may be a bit of a language barrier in her dealings with her higher-ups.
posted by lukemeister at 5:30 PM on February 4, 2010

This is not legal advice, but I just ran this by my husband who is a police officer. He said if he were presented with the situation, he would not legally be able to get you into the apartment, and he wouldn't be able to force the manager to do so either, but he would probably look the other way if you could find a way to get in on your own, as long as you didn't damage any property in doing so (e.g. doors, windows) or create a public disturbance (and with the caveat that your situation as you've described it is true).

In the meantime, his advice is for you to get your lawyer on the ball and get an emergency court order allowing you access. If you show up with a court order, the police will be able to force the manager to let you in.
posted by amyms at 5:32 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The lawyer filed a petition for appointment of my wife as a special administrator because one of my mother-in-law's daughters stated her mother told her she had a will in the apartment. He would file a petition for one of the daughters to be the personal representative if the petition for a special administrator is denied.
posted by lukemeister at 5:34 PM on February 4, 2010

I am not a lawyer, but if it were my mom and no other relatives objected, I'd bust the door down, or have a locksmith open it, and ask for forgiveness later.
posted by zippy at 5:50 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the City of Boulder government website: "Nothing including moving to another state, medical conditions or even death terminates the lease, unless the lease has a clause specifically stating that such an event will terminate the lease."

Pretty surprising. So technically, there is still an agreement in place between the property owners and your mother-in-law, unless her lease states otherwise. I'd ask them for a copy of the lease, information about the notice needed to end the lease early, and pay them the rent (which will be reimbursed to you by the estate's money once a representative or administrator is named). If they receive the rent, they can't evict her bird and belongings.

It sounds like they might be legally in the right, but total assholes. I'm not a lawyer.
posted by Houstonian at 5:57 PM on February 4, 2010

How is the landlord supposed to know that you are legally entitled to deal with your MIL's belongings? How dos he know that you aren't going to sell off everything, steal the silver and cheat your sisters-in-law out of their fair share? (I understand that you are not, but he has an obligation to do things legally.

Houstonian and those who advise you to work through your lawyer are giving you the best information here. You/your spouse need paperwork stating you are the legal representative, executor, or whatever.

I deal with this somewhat when my company owes money to someone who has died. The check doesn't just go to the person who asks for it. It goes 'to the estate of Mrs. Dead Person.'
posted by SLC Mom at 6:14 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone. We're in Longmont, in Boulder County, but outside the city of Boulder.
posted by lukemeister at 7:59 PM on February 4, 2010

I recently went through the probate process with my mother.

I am not impressed by your lawyer.
posted by intermod at 8:22 PM on February 4, 2010

BTW, re: my answer above. I AM a lawyer. Your lawyer needs to call the probate court and register of wills TOMORROW MORNING and get this taken care of.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:52 PM on February 4, 2010

I'm tempted to call the local TV stations to publicize the shady practices of the management corporation.

They seem to be acting in accordance with the advice that Nolo gives in Every Landlord's Legal Guide in not giving access to anyone without documented authority. You might get results, but they're simply protecting themselves from liability.
posted by dhartung at 9:50 PM on February 4, 2010

Seconding the advice above to get your lawyer working for you and your mother-in-laws estate. If they aren't willing to do that ( they need to light a fire under somebody), see another lawyer and fast! Tell them the family wants access, NOW. Also tell the lawyer family wants to collect her personal things. Papers, clothing, photos, etc. The parrot belongs to your mother-in-laws estate and I would think family ( whom the estate has possibly passed to) would be responsible for its welfare, NO ONE else! Some one from the family should be entering that apartment BEFORE others. Legally though. I also agree that you should come up with the money to pay one more months rent. Maybe by paying it, you may be entitled to enter it.

And as for "My mother-in-law lived there almost a decade, and there's no chance of anything of monetary value being in the apartment." I wouldn't bet on it. My father went into the hospital shortly before he died, and told me where to find some bonds he had hidden in his house. Lots and lots of bonds.

But I wholeheartedly disagree with breaking in. Some one from the family should be entering that apartment. Again, legally. If items are found to be missing ( taken by some one else and before you enter) and the family finds out those things are missing after you broke in, you could be blamed. That might very well compound things. Situations such as yours can escalate very fast.

And if someone from the family does enter the apartment, don't go alone ( 2,3 or even 4 members of the family), and take notes.

At the very least, your lawyer should be offering to make a phone call or two to the proper authorities so the family can gain entry.

Good luck. IANAL.
posted by Taurid at 11:37 PM on February 4, 2010

You've got great advice re: what to ask from your lawyer.

I just wanted to add something based on my own "expertise", seeing what you wrote about her first language being French: the language barrier is no excuse. The terms used in your situation are quite common, plus, most everything legal has French roots, because French was the legal language of England for a few centuries. Quote from that Wikipedia article: Consequently, many words in common use in modern legal English are derived from what evolved into Law French.

I seriously, seriously doubt that any language barrier with her higher-ups has anything to do with the matter. (And I say this as an American living in France who has shared a friend's experience of going through estate matters in France; it's surprisingly similar and the vocabulary is not at all strange.)
posted by fraula at 2:20 AM on February 5, 2010

It looks like we're getting into the apartment on Sunday. Today's negotiations, which I was not involved with, were so complex that I'm not sure I follow the whole story that my sister-in-law told me. Thanks for your advice.
posted by lukemeister at 7:46 PM on February 5, 2010

My wife and her sisters-in-law got into the apartment today, Monday, at 6 PM, after the oldest of the three sisters, who has multiple sclerosis, staged an all day sit-down strike in the lobby of the offices of the apartment building. The management gave them the keys but stated that they regretfully have to place an eviction notice on the door tomorrow. We're wondering how we became characters in Bleak House.
posted by lukemeister at 6:45 PM on February 8, 2010

Thanks for the update.
posted by intermod at 8:11 AM on March 20, 2010

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