This is very unfortunate and there is something really wrong about your father's attorney driving his car. I would consult with a probate attorney. If the attorney can help you, he or she may be willing to get paid from the estate. The attorney can also help you find out more about the lawsuit and your father's assets. Best wishes.
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I agree with Attorney Reed. This sounds fishy, to say the least. I would suggest that you consult with your own attorney to investigate the situation further. Who has rights is dependent on the title to assets. In the absence of a Will, you and your stepmother would divide the probate assets. The exact split would depend on whether your step-mother is entitled to exemptions and allowances, among other things.
Assets titled jointly with another person, or assets that have a beneficiary designated would pass outside of probate, and would not be subject to the intestate rules. If something happened improperly, however, and you have some red flags, then that could potentially be undone, by the court.
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Find your own attorney as soon as possible. You need a probate attorney practicing in the area where your father resided. You should have someone looking out for your interests. As Attorney Reed cited, the fees may be structured to come out of the estate funds. Find a qualified attorney on this site through Find a Lawyer or check with the local bar association. Good luck!
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You can file for administration in surrogates court. You can apply to be appointed administrator to gather up all assets which includes car, money from settlement, information from the PI lawyer including the closing statement including the check for the settlement. Speak with a local experienced lawyer to help you.
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Speak to a probate attorney as soon as you can. You can find one using the Find a Lawyer link here. The other attorney should not have the car. Division will be between his spouse and all children, no matter where they live.
To questioners from West Virginia & New York: Although I am licensed to practice in your state, I practice on a day-to-day basis in Massachusetts. I answer questions in your state in areas of the law in which I practice, and in which I feel comfortable trying to offer you assistance based on my knowledge of specific statutes in your state and/or general principles applicable in all states. It is always best, however, to work with attorneys and court personnel in your own area to deal with specific problems and factual situations.
The answer to your questions are yes, you get something if there is anything to get and your father died without a will - under NY law you are entitled to at least a portion of one half of your father's probate assets after a deduction of up to $50,000 and certain exempt property that goes to his surviving spouse (if she didn't abandon him). The car could go to her, but it is unlikely that it goes to your father's attorney unless your father gave it or sold it to him before he died or left it to him in a will. That your father's attorney will not communicate with you and has possession of your father's car may raise ethical issues for that attorney, unless he is holding the car until an administrator is appointed or he has good reason not to be responsive to your inquiries. As a NY domiciled child of your father, you may have the first priority in bringing a petition for letters of administration and temporary administration. That would give you authority and the support of the Surrogate's Court to make the attorney communicate with you and to find out more about your father's assets. Delay is your enemy at this point. Consider consulting with an estates and trusts attorney if you have not already done so. - Ian W. MacLean
This is not legal advice. If you would like legal advice, please contact the firm. The firm offers legal advice only to clients who have retained the firm in writing. New York ethics rules for attorneys and the rules of the Appellate Division require an written engagement letter or retainer agreement for all matters anticipated to exceed $3,000 in legal fees.
My colleagues all give you good advice. You may be young and new to this country, but your instincts are right on target: There's quite possibly something going on here. You knew enough to come to this website, and now you should take the next step and find a good local attorney who can help you sort things out.
You say that there was no will. That may or may not be true and should, of course, be investigated. Since many of your father's dealings are apparently not known to you, your father could have signed a will without your being aware of it. Beyond that, regardless of whether there is a will, you may be entitled to a portion of your father's assets. I say MAY because the way in which the assets were held will determine that.
In an ideal world, your father's attorney would answer your calls and provide you with information. Since that isn't happening, your only option is to find an attorney. As some of my colleagues pointed out, it may be possible to find an attorney who will agree to accept his or her fee from the assets of the estate. Finding such an attorney, however, may not be quite that easy, because as of right now you can't guarantee that you are entitled to anything from your father's estate or, for that matter, whether the estate is sizeable or very modest. Still, if you ask around enough, you will probably find an attorney who is willing to do a bit of legwork to gather information about your father's assts.
For example, you say that your father settled with an insurance company due to a car accident. Chances are that your father's insurer knows something about this. Or, there may have been a lawsuit filed. If that was the case, it should be relatively easy to find out what was paid and when it was paid.
If you have access to your father's papers, that should also be a good place to start.
There is a lot of information out there. An attorney will help you to find out that information and advise you as you go forward.
Good luck to you.
Michael S. Haber is a New York attorney. As such, his responses to posted inquiries, such as the one above, are limited to his understanding of law in the jurisdiction in which he practices and not to any other jurisdiction. In addition, no response to any posted inquiry should be deemed to constitute legal advice, nor to constitute the existence of an attorney/client or other contractual or fiduciary relationship, inasmuch as rendering legal advice involves the ability of the attorney to ask appropriate questions of the person seeking such advice and to thus gather appropriate information. In addition, an attorney/client relationship is formed only by specific agreement. The purpose of this answer is to provide the questioner with general information, not to outline specific legal rights and remedies.