Q: My mother-in-law made me executor of her will. Her assets go to my wife and I have a question about the house.
She passed several years ago, and the house is still in the name of her estate. We've been living in the house. First of all, we'd like to transfer the title to us, so we'll need to know how to do that. Beyond that, the house is in disrepair, and either needs to be completely remodeled or replaced. The house has been in the same native American family since the '40s.
We don't have the money or credit to make the repairs or replace the house. I believe there are programs for Native families to assist. Is this true? If so, can you point me in the right direction of who to contact?
We want to find out if it makes more sense to sell the house as-is and walk away from it or if there are other options.
Thank you in advance for your help.
A: The process of administering a will is called probate. It sounds like the house is still in your mother-in-law's name because no probate was ever done. You need to hire a probate attorney to help you probate your mother-in-law's will. That will get the title to the house updated and also title to any other assets that were in your mother-in-law's name when she died.
Any California resident who passes away (called a "decedent") will have their assets valued. Decedents with assets valued at $166,250 or greater must have their assets reviewed by a court BEFORE the heirs can inherit the assets -- although there are some exceptions to that general rule if the assets are titled in certain ways. The court process is known as "probate" because the court that hears these matters is the Probate Court. Having a Will does NOT exempt heirs from going through the probate process, which commonly lasts more than one year. Since your mother had a Will, you will be required to go through the Probate Court before you could sell or even transfer title from your mother to you. This is one of many reasons why doing estate planning is so very important. If your mother had a trust in place, rather than a Will, there is a good chance you could have avoided probate.
Contact a probate attorney to assist you, if you are unfamiliar with the probate process. It's a lot of paperwork and accounting and, in some ways, is similar to an IRS audit because you have to gather documentation about all of your mother's assets and their dollar values as of the date of her death.
I don't have information about the Native American law you reference. You will need to find an attorney who specializes in that area of law because it is very unique. All the best to you!
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