My mother passed away July 17, 2008. I am executrix for her estate. I am trying to get her personal belongings (clothes, pictures etc.). My stepfather and his son do not want us in the house. My step brother brought over several bags of clothes but this is only a fraction of her personal belongings. How do I go about getting these things?
If you are the executrix then your job, and legal right, is to marshal (collect) all the assets of your mother's estate, including clothing and personal assets. You are then obligated to pay any bills, expenses, taxes, etc. Finally you have to distribute the assets as instructed in her will. A probate lawyer in your state can guide you. As for our stepfather's rights, if he signed a prenuptial agreement with your mother that may govern which of the assets are his and which are hers. So you might need to see that and have a matrimonial lawyer interpret it for you if there is a problem. If there is no prenuptial agreement your stepfather might reasonably believe that things he paid for should belong to him. It is also conceivable that he is doing this just to be vengeful. You may never know. If there are valuable assets that you have not received you should hire a probate litigator and ask him or her to follow up with a certified letter demanding estate assets. If your stepfather doesn't respond sufficiently, then you can have the litigator bring a suit to regain possession of these items. The problem with all of this is that it will heighten the acrimony which sounds pretty bad already. Further, it can be expensive and time consuming. Finally, the longevity of personal assets is often quite short. If your mother had sterling serving pieces, jewelry, etc. those types of items tend to disappear really quickly. It might be worthwhile, if your piece of mind if nothing more, to consult with a probate litigator to find out your rights and what is involved. However, the process can be quite costly. In the end you might need to evaluate whether the additional family strife, time delays, and legal costs are worth incurring to obtain what assets remain. Perhaps you can make a deal with your stepfather to get some specific items you want for economic or personal/sentimental reasons, and let the rest go. A litigator can guide you. So even if you have a legal remedy, is it worth the cost? If you approach this undoubtedly difficult situation from a right/wrong fairness/unfairness perspective, you might win, but in the end it may not be worth the cost. Try to estimate what items remain and alternative approaches.
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