(I think) we're looking for a good estate lawyer near Inyo County, CA
September 5, 2014 4:55 PM   Subscribe

My wife's estranged father just passed away. His wife had already passed away some time ago, so we're now at the point where we have to deal with what's left. We may need to hire some solid professional help. Details inside.

We're 3000 miles away and the house is out in the middle of (very beautiful) nowhere in Inyo County, CA (think: high desert, shadow of Mt. Whitney, near Death Valley). There's a trustworthy (elderly) uncle nearby, now on site, so the pets and such are taken care of. The immediate concerns of autopsy and morgue and such are already handled.

The uncle is unaware if there's a will and hasn't been able to find one, but there's a lot of ground to cover in that house. Knowing my wife's father, it's unlikely he wrote one, or, if he did, he made my wife the executor (as his wife did before him). Given our relationship with him (and my wife's sister), any amount of contact with his life is likely to be extremely traumatic. Let's assume the worst case at the moment because we need to plan for that to avoid this house becoming a giant stress nest for both of us.

I've read some guides online (from the AARP, etc.) about the steps folks need to take when someone dies. They all seem to assume you're going to do all the work yourself, save perhaps hiring a lawyer for the will-/probate-related stuff. But it's a huge list of things to do, paperwork and phone calls and dealing with the law.

So (I know, you are not giving us legal advice):

1. How much of this stuff can an estate lawyer handle? It seems almost infinitely preferable to pay someone so that my wife doesn't ending up with a nervous breakdown or with me in jail for yelling at people. Surely there must be a system for if someone in my wife's position were, say, overseas and unavailable, or incapacitated, or underage, etc.?
2. Do you know of a good estate lawyer who can work in that area? The nearest cities of any size are Ridgecrest (Kern County) an hour-ish to the south and Bishop about 1.5 hours north. It seems like that much travel could be very costly. :(
3. Failing #2, how do we go about finding one? I've seen many recommendations to hit findlaw, check with the state bar association, etc., but there seems to be no way to tell quality or kindness?

Anyways, thank you for any help you can offer us.
posted by introp to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does your wife want anything to do with the estate? If not, she can bow out, not answer the phone and in general walk away from it.

Only people who want something from the estate get involved.

If you don't care, and there's no will, let the state work it out.

Here's some info from Nolo.org.

Basically the assets are divided equally among the children. Done and done.

So sit back and let everyone else bother themselves.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:35 PM on September 5, 2014

Assuming you DO want to get involved, you need an attorney to help you with the probate petition (or Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property if the property has little value) to transfer title to the property to the beneficiaries under the Will (if you find one) or the heirs at law if there's no Will. Also you need the lawyer to help with real estate filings for the property. You don't mention the size of the estate, and in CA that has a large influence on what hoops need to be jumped through. The bottom line though, is that the estate lawyer can handle almost everything, but it's not cheap.

MeMail me if you want and I can try to help you find an attorney (I'm an estate planning attorney in LA).

As far as cleaning the house, there are companies (Abell being one) who will come and clean out the house, auction everything and donate or trash what doesn't sell, and give you a percentage of the proceeds. Search "small estate auction" on google to find those.
posted by bluesky78987 at 5:46 PM on September 5, 2014

You can absolutely have an estate sale and have that taken care of by companies that do that. They take a percentage (obviously), if I remember correctly it was 30%. The problem becomes that there will be stuff leftover, lots of stuff likely. That's where you hire someone to come in and haul stuff away and maybe clean or that might need to be a different company. Lastly would be selling the home. An attorney can help with all these things, but I would remind you they will be doing it for $300 an hour or so and that there are other companies that you can hire directly instead. If you don't care what is in the house you can let it go through companies you hire and not touch a thing. I had to do lots of work because I was organizing and there were items I did want to keep, but if you don't have any items that you want I would hire out everything for your own sanity.

Also, you will need a lawyer, or rather will want one, for handling the estate if there is no will. The lawyer will handle the paperwork that needs to be filled with the courts. If all this sounds like too much and not worth the sale of the assets, well I don't know the details of walking away, but as mentioned above I am pretty sure you can just walk away and the house and possessions will fall to the state. I would still consult an attorney. Good luck.
posted by dawg-proud at 6:08 PM on September 5, 2014

If you are entitled to inherit, hire an estate company and lawyers to sell and liquidate everything. No need to dredge through personal items yourself.

Don't let the estate/proceeds escheat to the state, or to other relatives unless you care about them and wish for them to have the cash.

If you do wind up with a cash windfall from this, either enjoy it or, if the nature of the relationship with the deceased makes that impossible, donate to your favorite cause. But don't let apathy or emotional hurt or ill will stop you from either doing better financially yourselves or doing good for others.
posted by slateyness at 11:45 PM on September 5, 2014

Oh, and Martindale Hubbel is the most comprehensive directory of lawyers I know of.
posted by slateyness at 11:46 PM on September 5, 2014

We ended up using all this information, so it's all the best answer.

For the record, if anyone else ends up in this situation, a phone call the Inyo County Bar Association ended up being to best resource for estate law attorneys in the area. They provided a ready-made list of all attorneys practicing in Inyo and Mono counties.
posted by introp at 6:20 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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