Father died. No will. Stepmother got everything. 5 surviving sons. Estate value appx. $500,000.
We, the brothers assumed she, as his wife, got it all. Well not really? Don't the Michigan Intestate Succession Laws apply? Isn't she only entitled to a set amount $136,000 to $150,000 and additional estate is divided between her and us sons?
Father died 2009. The bulk of the estate is 3 homes, 40 acres and all paid off....
We need a lawyer. Are there lawyers available with a retainer that can get paid from the proceeds after?
The answer is: it depends. How the assets were TITLED is the key to determining where you stand. If the assets were all jointly held between spouses, or if the wife was named as the beneficiary, then there ARE no probate assets and nothing for the intestate laws to apply to. If there were assets that were in your father's name alone, then the intestate laws would apply to those assets. Depending on the facts of your situation, the spouse would likely have additional exemptions and allowances that would apply, which would take her close to $200k plus half of the remaining assets. This would again be the case ONLY if there were assets titled in your father's name alone. You can check the real estate records easily enough. If all of those titles were joint, that will give you a pretty good idea how everything else was held.
What if you do not know about an asset? Well, if it was in your dad's name alone, no one, including the spouse could access or do anything with that asset, unless and until it goes through probate. So it is not like she has an incentive to try to hide this from you. My guess is that all was joint and there is little you can do at this point, other than stay close to your step-mother and hope she leaves everything to the kids.
If you find that this is NOT the case and there ARE probate assets, let me know and I would be happy to discuss this with you further.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. If I refer to your state's laws, you should not rely on what I say; I just did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant that I hoped you would find helpful. You should verify and confirm any information provided with an attorney licensed in your state.
Estate Planning Attorney
The surviving spouse is entitled to an intestate amount. A widow in Michigan is entitled to a dower amount of one third in the real estate (and rental income) of her deceased husband. She is entitled to full ownership of her separate property. She may be entitled to administrative expenses and exempt amounts. You do need to hire an attorney to first analyze the estate, and then if desired to act on your behalf. It is unethical to pay on a contingency basis as you have described it. From the description, a probate estate will have to be opened to make the necessary calculations and rulings, but the probate judge will first insist on some sort of mediation or facilitation to encourage the family to come to a rational resolution before a disputed trial that is economically and emotionally expensive.
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Estate Planning Attorney
It really depends whether these are probate assets. If the assets had her name on them also then they pass to her. If they only have your dad's name on them they would have to go through probate. She would be entitled to a share plus certain allowances but since the children are not her children they would get a share also. If you think that may be the case, you should consult with a probate attorney. I offer free consultations if you are interested. Ken
In all likelihood, the assets were owned jointly, and therefore his wife would get everything - without going through probate. However, if the real estate is not owned jointly, it would need to be probated. You can go to the county where the property is located and search the land records to determine who owns the property according to the most recent deed (although it could be different if another deed was done and not recorded).
The other lawyers answering your question have given you very good advice.
The first thing you should do is write out a list of your dad's known assets and identify the county in which they are located. Then go to the register of deeds in each of those counties and get a copy of the land records for each parcel owned by your father, from the time he bought it up to the present. Then take the records and talk with a probate lawyer about the situation. I, also, do not charge for an initial consultation.
I am licensed to practice law in Michigan and Virginia and regularly handle cases of this sort. You should not rely on this answer. You should consult a lawyer so you can tell the lawyer the entire situation and get legal advice that is precisely tailored to your case.
Estate Planning Attorney
Yes there are intestate succession statutes which set forth the amount of the estate available to heirs of the decedent, and a contingency fee contract would be available. Additionally, charges could be made against the probate estate.
The information provided is based solely on the general information given and should not be construed as legal advice for your specific situation.