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Incredibly complex insolvent estate. We want to abandon almost all inherited property without putting landlord in legal danger

Ellensburg, WA |

My divorced dad died suddenly, with minimal assets, no will, & lots of debt. Everything is in total disarray. In last 2 months, discovered: ~$32k in various debt (account with debt mitigation; we think they have notified after-death collections), ~$40k owed to landlord (close personal friend of his), ~$3k in bank account (can't sign S.E. affidavit), tools, scrap material, junk car & boat (titles).
Upon death his belongings passed to my brother (17) & I (23) to split. My mother has been acting only on my brother's behalf. We held onto family keepsakes, personal mementos, and 2 pieces of furniture, but want to walk away from everything else. Can we do this? Does the landlord have rights to empty his property to rent again? Do we contact creditors? They have 3 years from notification to file?

Attorney Answers 3


You and your brother have no legal duty to do anything with your father's estate.

Generally, his creditors must be paid (if they file valid claims on time) before anything is passed on to the heirs. On the other hand, your brother, being a minor, has a priority claim against the father's estate that will take precedence over those of the other creditors.

If all the cash your father had is $3k, frankly, all of it likely will be paid to the attorney if your family hires an attorney.

The creditors likely do not want "tools, scrap material, junk car & boat" as those things likely would cost more to sell than just leaving them alone.

Anyone that is interested can open probate for your father. So, any of the creditors can open probate if the creditor thinks there is something to get from the estate.

"Does the landlord have rights to empty his property to rent again?" In WA, the death of the tenant or landlord does not legally end the tenancy. That is, the person handling your father's estate can claim that the tenancy has not ended and continue occupying the rental provided that rent is current. Given that rent appears to be overdue for several years, no one likely would want to claim that the tenancy should continue. If your family does not object, there likely is no one else to object when the landlord re-takes possession of the rental based on abandonment.

Your brother may be entitled to Social Security benefits if your father had earned enough SS credits. Your mother can check with SSA whether your brother has any SS benefits. More information is at . The sooner an application is filed, the sooner your brother can get some money.

The bank holding the money will forward the money to the State's Unclaimed Property office after three years of no activity in the account. Whoever is legally entitled to the money can get the money from the Unclaimed Property office at any time. The website is . So, one option may be to wait to claim the money from the Unclaimed Property office. Most commercial creditors are not going to start probate in an estate such as your father's.

Your family can get an initial review with an attorney and then decide what to do.

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Thank you very much for your reply, and to the other responses as well. I wish I had known about this site 2 months ago. The part that worries us most is that we have(!) sought legal advice already. Due to the intertwined complexities of this case, we have been specifically directed to a probate lawyer, an accountant, a litigation attorney, and sought other consultations offered by other lawyers. All in all we have been in contact with 6 or so professionals, and it worries me because nothing lines up exactly. We have been told to just walk away, we have been told we must not touch anything. We have been told it is up to us to contact the creditors, we have been told to let them seek us out. We have been told that the creditors have 3 months after notification to file probate, but I just read on that all we have to do is file a public notice, contact the creditors and suddenly the window is 4 months. There have been at least 2 people that recommended the small estate affidavit to us, even though we have made it clear probate is not a desirable option and thus by signing it I would be committing a felony! On two other occasions we have also been told, rather frankly, that no attorney in their right mind would be willing to take our case because it is so convoluted and there is little money there. Because of all the inconsistencies it's been very difficult to feel confident in any decision I've made, or feel comfortable with choosing legal help. We could hire an attorney, open probate, and use the account money to pay for it, but should that prove insufficient my family is not in a position to take on any additional legal bills; the advice we've sought has been a burden enough already. I greatly appreciate your help.


You are right, that is rather complex. It might be worth your time to hire a lawyer, which can be done with estate funds. The $3,000 in the bank account would probably be enough to get most of it done. One way or the other, the estate has to be taken care of.

This posting is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. For more information, please visit

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The complexity of the issues makes it important that your family consult an attorney to assist in clearing the debts or eliminating them because of the insolvency of the estate, claiming any exempt personal property and clearing out his apartment so it may be re-rented. There is also an issue because technically your brother is a minor. You need legal help.

The above answer is not to be considered legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should consult your attorney for specific legal advice as to your individual situation.

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