First, I'm sorry for your loss. Second, the safest thing to do is to contact a probate attorney. He can tell you what to do. If she did not have a will, part of the assets will go to you and part will go to her children. If no children, you would inherit everything. You will still need to file paperwork with the probate court. They have all the forms and they will try to help you. Good luck.
The information provided should not be considered legal advice. I am not licensed to practice in any State other than SC. The results of your case will depend on the presentation of evidence, the law and other factors that may change depending on an in depth analysis of the facts of the case. Please see an attorney before making legal decisions.
Usually, joint property passes to the surviving joint tenant without going through an estate. An attorney needs to review the title on your house, however, because if all it says is you OR your wife, that could be construed in many states as a tenancy in common. That is a relatively rare way for married people to hold title, but if that is what you have, your wife's share would need to go through probate. Many states have a presumption that when married people hold title together, it results in a "tenancy by the entireties." If that is the case for you, then you would now be the owner.
You should meet with an attorney at this point, anyway, in order to update YOUR estate planning. I would ask the attorney to review the title to the house, just to make sure you are okay, as is.
I am very sorry for your loss!
*** 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.
I also am very sorry for your loss. It is unusual for real estate to be titled with "or" between the names. While this is acceptable for the vehicle and the checking account, it would probably be held to be a tenancy in common rather than as a joint tenancy with the right of survivorship. Real estate is handled differently. You should have a probate or real estate attorney review the deed since you don't want a problem with clear title later on. You also need to consider how to properly handle your own estate now that she has passed. Even if you do have to open an estate, the procedure is fairly simple in South Carolina and you could probably handle it on your own except for the drafting of the deed of distribution.
This answer is for general advice. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney client relationship. For legal advice you have to retain your own attorney.
It may cost money, unless you can find a free consultation. many probate attorneys would provide free consultations. The attorney could run through the estate with you to determine if there are any assets or debts that you may have missed. At the very least, as the other attorneys pointed out they could help you determine whether you need to open an estate to transfer the real estate.
There may be the need for filing documents with the register of deeds, and or opening an estate to collect property or record evidence of transfer of the real property. An attorney can help you with this.
Ian A. Taylor
The Taylor Law Office L.L.C. | (843) 314-4313
Pawleys Island, SC
Estates. Probate. Adult Guardianship. Landlord-Tenant. Insurance.
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A South Carolina probate attorney may be able to help with the paperwork involved with the deed of distribution for the house to take it from joint title to title in one person's name.
Evan Guthrie Law Firm is licensed to practice law throughout the state of South Carolina. The Evan Guthrie Law Firm practices in the areas of estate planning probate wills living trust special needs trusts personal injury accident and divorce and family law and entertainment law. For further information visit his website at http://www.ekglaw.com . Forbes http://blogs.forbes.com/people/evanguthrielawfirm/ Findlaw http://pview.findlaw.com/view/4647185_1 Google + https://plus.google.com/108042079486614265662/about?hl=en Evan Guthrie Law Firm 164 Market Street Suite 362 Charleston SC 29401 843-926-3813
This answer is for informational purposes only. This answer does not constitute legal advice, create an attorney-client relationship, or constitute attorney advertising. Evan Guthrie is licensed to practice law throughout the state of South Carolina. For further information visit his website at www.ekglaw.com <ekglaw.com>.