Q: Parent recently died, and parent's apartment needs to be vacated. Leasing office is not responding.
Deceased parent did not leave a will. Leasing office allowed non-residents to change the locks and remove items from the apartment while ignoring the parent's adult child.
First off,I'm terribly sorry for your loss.
I'd need more information to be able to answer your question more fully; however, as a general rule no one is entitled to possession of a decedent's personal property until an executor or an administrator is appointed for his or her estate. This applies even in situations where you, as a child, would inherit your parent's property by virtue of your status as an an intestate (i.e., when someone dies without a will) heir of their estate.
In cases where there is no will and when there's no necessity for the appointment of an administrator, the intestate heirs would inherit the property immediately upon the death of your parent. The share of your parent's property that you would be entitled to receive depends on your parent's family situation at the time of their death (married vs. unmarried, number of children, whether the children were born to the same parents, etc.). Additionally, the share to which you will be entitled also depends on whether the property was community or separate property.
Even if you are entitled to your parent's property immediately, the trick is convincing anyone in possession of that property to turn it over to you. How do they know you're really an heir? How do they know how much property you're to receive? How do they know there's not a will? Banks, brokerages, storage units - and in this case, an apartment complex - aren't going to just take your word for it. If they let you take the property, it becomes a liability issue for the apartment complex because if it turns out that you aren't an heir then the person that IS an heir may come forward later on and file suit against the apartment complex for having let you take the property that they would have received.
How the various companies handle this issue largely depends on their own policies and, quite frankly, the value of the property that they're holding. Banks, for example, will almost always require a court order (small estate affidavit or a judgment declaring heirship) before letting you take the money in the account. Occasionally, a business holding the property of a deceased parent will turn it over to the children without a court order (whether this is a good idea or not is another question, however) when the value of the property is low; however, they are under no obligation to do so (nor is the apartment complex in this case) In fact, it's probably not even accurate to say that the apartment complex is "holding" the property of your parent; rather, what it appears they did was give access to the apartment to third parties, and that they in turn removed property of your parent from the apartment.
An attorney specializing in landlord/tenant law could probably answer the question as to what the rights and obligations of the apartment complex are in this situation. If the apartment was negligent and caused you harm, then they could probably advise you as to the strength of your case and what your options and potential remedies might be should you file suit.
From a practical standpoint, however, the cost of hiring a lawyer may outweigh the benefit even if you win your case. It may also be the case that you did wish to initiate initiating legal proceedings against the apartment complex, you'd need to be appointed as the administrator of your parent's estate first. Since your parent died without a will, the process to have you appointed as such would likely be expensive and time-consuming. If there were other reasons as to why an administrator would need to be appointed, then perhaps the time/cost of probate would be worth it. If it's solely to obtain the property in the apartment or hold the apartment complex responsible, however, then it may not (though your mileage may vary - it could be that there is something in the apartment that is particularly valuable or sentimentally important to you).
Again, my condolences for your loss. I hope I've been of some help.
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