The deceased had very few assets if any (owned a very old car, rented the apt, etc) that we know of. The deceased's son is very shady and took all of his files right after he died. And he won't say if he is the executor or not. Mom is receiving bills as well as a check made out to the Estate. She doesn't want to get in trouble with debtors but also doesn't want to pay bills if the son is actually the executor.
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File for administration in surrogates court. Ask for your mother to be appointed the administrator. If the son has a will, then he will present it to the court and you will know.
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The first thing that needs to be determined is whether he died intestate or not. If he had a will, the will needs to be located in order to determine who is the executor. If he died intestate (without a will), there is no executor, but an administrator that gets appointed.
Taking a step back, depending on the size of the estate and whether the assets where jointly or individually owned, probate or an administration may not be necessary. You should consult with a local attorney who practices in probate and administrations. If you and your husband executed wills, it might be wise to speak with the attorney who drafted them, as he may be holding the originals and should be able to give you some more direction.
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The prior answers provide good insight. First try to talk to the son but if fruitless get mom with an estate/probate attorney who can file for her to be named administratrix of the estate. If there is no will the laws of instestate succession apply. Do this immediately.
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As the other answers have indicated, having your mother meet with an attorney and submit a petition for letters of administration may force the deceased's son to show his hand and produce the will. However the issue is that by electing to proceed as though there is no will then your mother becomes bound by the rules of intestacy in New York. This would mean that as spouse she would be entitled to the first $50,000 of the estate and half the remainder with the rest being distributed to the children of the deceased. If the decedent had a will that disinherited his son then the son may wind up getting a windfall by simply keeping his mouth shut about the will.
You need to meet with an probate and estate litigation attorney in order to determine the best path to proceed along.
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