Q: Hello,My mom recently passed away in Florida. She has two IRA accounts, a 401k and life insurance with no will. She
had only two heirs, my sister and I, but I live out of the country and unable to return any time soon because of COVID-19. Her accounts total about $30k not including the life insurance. I am worried my sister will be able to take everything as I am not there. She has also already forcibly taken everything in my mom’s apartment and refuses to send me copies of the death certificate. What should I do to protect myself?
You should hire a probate attorney to assist you. Normally assets such as life insurance policies, and retirement accounts, such as IRA accounts and 401k allow the owner of the account to name beneficiaries and these assets pass outside of an estate to the named beneficiary. If there is no named beneficiary then these assets will be assets of the estate. If you know the name of the company that is the trustee for these assets you can contact them directly about making a claim. Usually you can find contact information on the internet. You will need to know at a minimum your mother's date of birth, social security number and you will need a certified copy of her death certificate. If it is less than 2 years since your mother passed you can obtain copies of her death certificate from the health department where she died, otherwise you can visit the Vital Statistics website for the State of Florida and order as many as you need. Make sure you are ordering from the State of Florida website since there are private companies that also have websites to obtain these documents at premium prices.
If there are other assets you want that you cannot locate yourself you will need to have an attorney to assist you to possibly file a petition for administration so your sister can be required to turn over information and account for assets.
A: Hire a lawyer immediately in the county in which your mother's property is located. Like today immediately, not next week immediately.
A: First, I am very sorry for your loss. I agree with my colleagues, you will need to hire a probate attorney to assist you and represent your interests, especially if you are out of the country. It may be difficult to obtain the personal items already taken from the apartment by your sister, but the financial accounts can't be transferred without filing a probate. I would recommend that you file the probate as representative, so you have more control.
A: Since you live out of the country and are worried about your sister in Florida taking advantage of your absence you are going to HAVE to contact an experienced Florida LITIGATION lawyer (does NOT have to be a probate lawyer) to help you protect your interests. Call a lawyer first; and then work on getting a copy of the death certificate. Hurry.
Terrence H Thorgaard agrees with this answer
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