No. Absolutely not. An "Administrator" (same as an "Executor" but used when there is no Will), needs to be appointed.
End of story.
Let me know what happens.
John B. Whalen, Jr., J.D., LL.M. is an AV Peer Review Attorney and Counselor at Law, is listed in The Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, is Avvo Rated 10.0 Superb, is a recipient of the Legum Magister (LL.M.) Post-Doctorate Degree in Taxation (from the Villanova University School of Law), and is a recipient of the American Jurisprudence Award in Wills, Trusts, and Estates (from the Widener University School of Law).
John B. Whalen, Jr., Esq. provides free initial home consultations seven (7) days per week, including all evenings, weekends, and holidays, from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM.
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The short answer is no. If your father-in-law did not leave a will, then an administrator should be appointed to handle his estate. To accomplish this, an interested person (usually a beneficiary) will file a petition for "Letters of Administration" at the Register of Wills in the county where your father-in-law resided at his death. If multiple individuals file Petitions to be an administrator, then the Orphan's court will appoint one or more of them to serve.
An administrator has important responsibilities, including gathering and safeguarding the probate assets of the deceased person, paying all debts (from the estate funds), and filing necessary tax returns. Whoever plans to file a petition to be appointed as administrator should seek the assistance of an attorney first.
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Marshall D. Chriswell is a civil practitioner with offices in Indiana and Clearfield Counties. Mr. Chriswell's practice emphasizes Wills & Estate Planning, Probate, Real Estate, and general civil disputes.
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While I agree with the other answers in light of the scarcity of facts included in your summary, there are MANY situations where the parents places one child's name on ALL of the assets. If that was done in this case, then the assets pass outside of probate and the one child owns it all.
The lone beneficiary may or may not have a moral obligation to share the assets with his or her siblings. In your case, since the rest of you were estranged from your father, it is very feasible that he intentionally disinherited the rest of you. If that is the case, then yes, the sole sibling would not only be "in control" of everything, but would also be the owner of everything.
*** 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.
In addition to agreeing with the answers of my two fine colleagues, I would add the following, since this issue crops up repeatedly on Avvo:
The law doesn't care who's estranged from whom; who Mom liked best; or even who took Mom to Bingo every Thursday night for the past 27 years. The law only cares about ownership, as shown through such proofs as bank accounts, deeds, wills and titles, or, if there's a fight over assets, a Court Order. These are, and will be the documents which are used to determine who, at the end of the day, gets what.
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