Now this happens all the time. Uncle Buster tells you that you're going to inherit his house. Now you love Uncle Buster, and you want him to live to a ripe old age. But you know in your heart that when Uncle Buster dies you are going to inherit his house. Uncle Buster let a few other relatives and neighbors know that he was eventually going to give you the house.
Uncle Buster dies. Aunt Thelma, Buster's long lost sister shows up at the funeral and announces that she's in charge of Buster's estate. You're initially too shy to ask her about Buster's will, but you're concerned. Within days Thelma is cleaning out the house and putting all of its contents up for a Saturday garage sale. You stop by the sale and get up your nerve to ask Thelma. "Aunt Thelma, Uncle Buster told me that I was going to inherit his house. Do you have his will?"
Thelma responds "no such thing," that "it's none of your business," and you should be ashamed of yourself. She says that Buster didn't have a will, anyway.
You call your attorney to see what legal right you have to the home. Well, in a word "none." California and other states have intestacy laws establishing who gets property after the death of a loved one who dies without a will. In this case Uncle Buster died without a spouse, without issue (children and grandchildren) and his only survivor was his estranged sister, Thelma. Who gets the house? Thelma!
This might seem unfair (particularly if you suspect that Thelma destroyed a will), but the state's probate rules insuring that property goes pursuant to a deceased person's wishes require that the will be in writing. Without a will, the decedent is said to be intestate and the state's probate rules define who takes an intestate decedent's property.
So my word of advice to those like Uncle Buster who like to express their wishes and don't have a writing - "If wishes were fishes we'd all swim in riches." Get your wishes into a will, a trust or other writings that secure your wishes.
Hackard Law is proud to protect the rights of beneficiaries and heirs in estate and trust litigation throughout California, including in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Diego. If you think you have rights that have been violated, you can contact us at 916-313-3030. We'll be happy to hear your side of the story and see how we can help you.