Lawyer now or later?
August 20, 2011 5:41 PM   Subscribe

Uncle has passed - when do we lawyer up?

My uncle recently passed away, he lived in Alaska. My mother is flying there next week to get his affairs in order, she's pretty sure he didn't have a will or living trust. My uncle was not married and has one daughter who lives in another country, and they had been estranged for many years

*I* think my mother should contact an Alaskan probate attorney right away (before she even leaves) to try and figure out what needs to happen with my uncle's small estate.

My mother wants to hold off with the lawyering until she gets to Alaska and checks out my uncle's situation - by getting the keys to his house and seeing if he did indeed file a will or other legal documents.

I'm a little worried because I'm not sure, even if the funeral home does release my uncle's house keys to my mother, that she can even legally enter his house.

So, when's the best time to get an attorney involved?
posted by shino-boy to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Right away, at least to just know what the options are, and what the responsibilities are. This kind of thing is tough to deal with along with the grief and one is often not at the best when dealing with it so having a non-engaged professional is a good idea, assuming you can reasonable afford it. It also helps keep people from getting feelings hurt as this kind of situation can and does rip families apart (or further apart it sounds like in your case) and being above board and legal with all the cards on the table really, really helps.
posted by bartonlong at 5:47 PM on August 20, 2011

She does not have to contact an Alaskan lawyer right away, but should get general legal advice about what she can and cannot do before she lawyers up in the great state of Alaska. Does your mother have an attorney who prepared her will and whatnot? Call her.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:11 PM on August 20, 2011

Your mom should find one as soon as possible after she gets there.
posted by easily confused at 6:13 PM on August 20, 2011

Response by poster: My mom has not prepared her own living trust, so she has none of those contacts yet.

Thank you for all your answers so far, this is a trying time for us.
posted by shino-boy at 8:01 PM on August 20, 2011

I see nothing wrong with her entering the home and looking for a will before contacting a lawyer. But that really is all she should do.

In just about every state, if there is no will, the daughter will inherit everything, regardless of the estrangement. She does not want to do anything that will create problems later.
posted by megatherium at 5:36 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am sorry for your loss. If your mom is going to be in Alaska for a while she can find an attorney when she's up there. If there's stuff that's likely to be disputed [absence of a will, fighty family members, something problematic, big debts] it's good to have an attorney sooner rather than later mostly because they can answer location-specific questions about "what happens next?" I went through a family death recently and besides "get a lawyer" I'd suggest the following

- have your mother obtain multiple copies of the death certificate from the funeral home
- if there's a death certificate available, that can be used to do things like cancel services to the house [cable, internet, magazines, whatever] and get your uncle's mail forwarded
- if possible, try to figure out immediate things like funeral services, what to do with the body, what to do with the apartment
- writing a nice obituary is a good way to honor the deceased as well as letting people know that he has died. Funeral homes will do this but your mom or someone else could make one that's more personal and knowledgeable

Some of this will depend on how hardass the funeral home and other folks are going to be about this. If your mom is a next of kin she shouldn't have a lot of trouble but sometimes lawyers can greatly ease these sorts of things. There's a lot of stupid paperwork and fighting with people in the weeks after someone's death [getting my dad's cell phone canceled was somehow the worst part of all of this for me, no love AT&T] so take things slow and try to triage and do the absolutely most important things and take care of yourself in the meantime.
posted by jessamyn at 8:34 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, my mom was able to clean up my uncle's place and we were able to contact the daughter. It turns out that my uncle and his daughter were not so estranged after all, and she's traveling to Alaska to manage his estate.
posted by shino-boy at 10:45 AM on September 5, 2011

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