In Kentucky, an heir at law (which includes a child) can initiate an estate administration proceeding. An attorney is not required (although the process usually proceeds much more smoothly when the heir is represented by an attorney.) The forms to petition the District Court for appointment as the personal representative of the estate are available online at http://courts.ky.gov/. You can contact the District Court Clerk of the county in which your father resided to determine when and how the Judge handles estate proceedings. You can seek appointment as the Administrator of the estate. Notice of your petition for appointment would have to be given to your step-mother. Once you are appointed, you would have the authority to search for other assets of the estate.
It is important to distinguish between probate and non-probate assets. Any assets your father owned in survivorship with his wife or any other person would be non-probate assets that would pass directly to the surviving owner. Assets with a beneficiary designation such as life insurance and retirement plans are also non-probate assets unless the estate is made the beneficiary. Those assets pass directly to the named beneficiary. Real estate is a non-probate asset unless the sale of the real estate is required to pay debts of the estate. When there is no will and the real estate does not have to be sold, an affidavit of descent is filed with the County Court Clerk to pass the title to the real estate.
When a Kentucky resident dies without a Will, the surviving spouse gets half the real estate owned by the decedent at the time of death and half the personal property in the probate estate after the debts are paid. If your father and his wife owned the home as tenants in common (no survivorship), she would own her half plus half of his half of the property. The remaining one-fourth would be divided amoung the children (including the descendants of any deceased child.)
Many of the local bar associations in Kentucky have a lawyer referral service. These services will refer you to an attorney who does estate administrations. Often the initial consultation is done at a significantly reduced fee. I urge you to check for one of these services in the county where your father lived. The attorney to whom you are referred could explain the specific estate administration process in that county to you and give you some idea of what your next steps should be.
I'm sorry about your situation. You could certainly send a letter to your stepmother, or you could start probate proceedings yourself. There are standard forms to file, usually available online, to commence probate. She doesn't have an option as to whether or not to allow a probate of the estate.
If the property was not in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, it would not be able to be transferred, during stepmom's life or after her death, without getting a signature from someone with the legal authority to sign on behalf of your dad's estate (a personal representative appointed by the court).
All the best,
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Without money you are left with little options. You may want to consider contacting the Kentucky bar association. They may have a program for people like yourself who can not afford legal counsel or they may know of a program in the county where your father was domiciled at his death.
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