Skip to comments.Estates Aren't Protected Under Alabama Law - Need FReeper Help/Advice
Posted on 01/07/2007 8:10:18 AM PST by proudofthesouth
I've discovered a "missing link" in Alabama's state law regarding estates. It turns out that step families or adults who live together in a home that only one of the adults own have no estate rights should one of the adults die.
I spoke to the my local state legislative office last Fall (prior to the elections) and they were surprised that this loophole exists.
Here is the body of the letter that I emailed to them explaining my particular situation:
My elderly mother lives in my late Stepfathers house. (It is a large 3 bedroom, 2 bath home and everything in it except for a couple pieces of furniture belongs to my Mother.)
It was stated in my late Stepfathers will (he passed away several years ago) that she can live there until her death as long as she pays the taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc. and she is complying with the will.
I am the Executor of her estate. A few weeks ago I spoke to a local probate attorney regarding how much time I will have to remove her property from the house upon her death. The attorney informed me that under Alabama law I dont have any rights regarding time and that my step siblings could in fact change the locks on the house immediately upon her death and keep everything in it! I asked about having an agreement drawn up between the step siblings and I and the attorney said that it wouldnt be legally binding and wouldnt hold up in court.
I would like to see a law passed to protect people in this situation. It would not only protect the relatives of step families but roommates, adults who live together and even relatives (brother, aunt, cousins, etc) who share the same home.
The law needs to specify a time period to remove belongings from the home as movers, storage facilities (or in my case an estate sale) cant be immediately arranged.
I wasnt aware that I didnt have any rights until I decided to contact an attorney. When I informed my mother about my lack of rights, she even considered moving (i.e. purchasing a condo or home which would wipe out her savings) in order to protect her estate and my inheritance. She has lived in and increased the value of this house for over 25 years. She is almost 80 years old and should not have to worry about someone legally stealing her estate.
This is a bill that I will actively work hard to see passed. Please let me know what I can do to help accomplish this.
Now that it is after the holidays and the state legislature will soon be back at work I want and NEED to get this bill passed. Any help or information that you can give me will be greatly appreciated. I'm not a smoozer and am very direct so small talk isn't my forte.
One of my step silblings I MIGHT be able to reason with to give me some time. The other one I've no doubt would keep everything in the house. Both of them are extremly wealthly and own their own homes so it isn't a matter of them needing what my Mom's belongings would bring them at an estate sale.
Thanks in advance for your help/advice.
Maybe the state could pass a civil union law that allows you to marry your mother... seriously, it sounds like your mom made a contractual agreement with her deceased husband that would stay in effect even if the law was changed.
I don't see why not.
You've painted a very hostile relationship between the relations, here, and that's too bad. Perhaps the issue is you don't think you can agree on the terms. The thing of value in that estate is likely the house, not your mother's things, unless there are particular valuable things where ownership is not as settled as you think.
Not according to the attorney I spoke to. He was the one who suggested that I try to get a bill passed protecting her estate.
The fact that my step siblings can legally steal everything she has worked for and bought is totally INSANE.
Maybe there is no law because civilized people don't behave this way. There can't be a law regarding every single event that may ever occur. Anyhow, I would get a second opinion about the idea of an agreement not being binding. I hope that is incorrect and a better option for you.
If and thats a big IF my step siblings were to sign an agreement according to the probate attorney I spoke to it wouldn't hold up in court.
So they could sign it but break it in court.
I think my stepbrother (with whom my Mom has a decent relationship with) would allow me the time to hold an estate sale. My stepsister (who has resented my Mom from day one) would go in their and take everything.
It would seem to me that you have some sort of tenant rights. Here in Michigan someone can just move into a house you own and it still takes you 30 days to evict them. I would look at that angle.
Your step father wanted to take care of his kids, but he also wanted to make sure your mother had the security of a home for the rest of her life. Your mother has a home and the kids end up (sooner or later) with the house. Fair deal.
It sounds like the step siblings own the house but you don't trust them. Maybe they don't trust you, either, and if your mother passes away you better believe they will change the locks. There will be a "custody" battle over nearly anything and everything in that house. "That was my mother's!" "No, that was my father's!"
My advice is to get everything of value out of that house NOW, while you and your mother have complete legal access. Even then, expect battles. ("Hey! Did you take the ____________ my father left here for me?") Inventory and photograph EVERYTHING for your own reference, and don't tell anybody you did so. Maybe rent a storage unit.
(Disclaimer: I am not an attorney but I read 'Cat in the Hat' to my kids.)
By the way, if there is consideration, ie., you give money or something of value to your step siblings for their signature on such an agreement, then it is a contract and should be valid.
My Mom wants to live in the house until she dies but refuses to give up or move her nice furnishings and jewelry. I am on her bank and investment accounts. I've gotten her to agree that if she were to be diagnosed with something terminal then a storage unit would be rented and things moved out. However, all of her legal papers are still in the house and there is NO reasoning with her about moving them elsewhere.
Photographs have been taken and are in the safety deposit box that I share with her.
After my Stepdad died his children came in and took what they wanted of his. My Mom was extremely generous giving them access to his possessions.
Nonetheless, this is a loophole that needs to be closed. However I will consult at least one more attorney.
I doubt you've been correctly informed. Title to your mother's personal property does not pass to the new owners of the house simply because she died there. Otherwise every tenant would be in a similar position.
Gaining access to remove the personal property might be a problem, but I doubt title would be in question, at least not if there is some documentation about the ownership of the personal property.
Life tenancies are not uncommon. I don't know the particulars of what is in the house, but unless there is particular valued and disputed stuff in the house it's likely that the stuff in the house is more hindrance than help to them, even the stepsister. It's in their way in either selling or taking possession of the house anyway. They don't want your mom's dishes and housewares, they want the house they've had to wait years to get from their dad. I think your job, if you want to protect your mother's things, is to let them know that you will begin removing the things as soon as possible. I'd think they'd be more than happy to sign to and respect a reasonable time frame. As executor of his estate, I'd think you should even be able to dictate what that time frame is. I've been beneficiary of a few estates, one involving a step parent. None of us were allowed to take anything from the house until it had all been inventoried and values set, so shares could be made equal between me and my brother, and my stepdad's other kids. The same would be true if there were things in the house that should not be included in the estate, or at least need to be determined which estate they belong to.
As a practical matter I wouldn't count on having an estate sale there at the house, I'd plan on having movers come.
I'm not a lawyer, but I can't see how the owners of the home could keep any of her belongings IF she left them to her "heirs" in an itemized Last Will and Testament?
I agree with your advice 100%.
Estate situations bring out the worst in people, and when they have money that just makes matters worse.
BTTT for reading later...
Assuming the items in the house are furniture, personalty, etc., and that she has proof of ownership, she can:[a] give them to you now, [b] sell them, and gift you with thye cash , either all at once, or so much a year [depending on whether itr exceeds the gift tax cap].From what you wrote, the law entitles them to the house, i.e building, and heating equipemnt, stove refrigerastor/freezer, etc. The rest , I presume under the law down there, is not defined as part of the house, but the lawyer can tell you that.
The estates I've been involved in have been mostly friendly, but there's always potential for trouble whenever there is both money and emotion at stake. And previously good relations can all fall apart if people are willing to fight over an ivory handled butter knife that has suddenly become precious.
My advice to all in those situations is to forgive and forget the small stuff, keep focused on behaving ethically yourself and keep focused on the big picture. Let the butter knives go.
You may not want to hear this, but it is your mother's stuff and I cannot believe you'd want to deprive her of her things just so you can "inherit" them later. Why should she live out the remainder of her life without her belongings?
In any event, why not have her designate specific items in her will to be left to you upon her death? Her property is her property, just like the step-father's property (house) was his. Talk to another attorney; that would be my advice. Also, you might not want to approach it so much about what's in it for you because that rubs people the wrong way. Perhaps it would be better to look out for your mother's best interests and wanting to honor her wishes (specifically, she wants to enjoy her things until her death and then she wants you to enjoy them.) I am not an attorney, btw.
I'm all for her keeping her things! I don't have a problem with that whatsoever!
She shouldn't be denied the comfort of living with the nice things she has acquired.
But both she and I ARE concerned about her property not coming to her inheritors (myself and my son).
I'm not being cold, crass or greedy about her estate. She has been extremely generous both to me and my son over the years. But thanks to the money that she has put into the house over the years she has increased the value of it which my stepsibling will eventually benefit from. Plus she nursed my Stepdad for many, many years thus keeping his children from having to pay for a nurse or nursing home.
But as a practical matter she WANTS to make sure that my son and I benefit from her hard work and can take the things that belong to her.
She KNOWS that an estate sale will be held (and has even told me who to contact to hold one) as I don't have the room for her furniture. WE simply want to make sure that the time will be given to hold one.
If I had the money I would gladly, happily buy the house from my step siblings for her!