How to proceed when a family member dies without a will

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan offer free-of-charge consultations regarding probate, estate planning, and end-of-life planning-related subjects. Did you know that? It’s a nice piece of information to keep in your back pocket for situations that may come to impact you and your family. If a family member dies and you are the one who is left to care for their estate and tie up any loose ends this can be a great advantage for you to have. Rather than having to wonder and search the internet for the information you can speak to a real-life attorney at no cost to you.

Take one look at our website and you will see that we have office locations across the Houston area. We know that your time is precious and that when you need information you need it now and not in a day or two. If you are interested in learning more about your case, our office, or anything in between please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. These consultations are free and fast. You can collect the information that you need and can be on your way. If you need more assistance from our office in the form of legal representation that is something that we can help you with as well. 

In a recent consultation, one of our attorneys had a distressing situation told to him by a potential client. This gentleman’s brother had recently passed away without a will. He was not married and had no kids. The brother was the deceased person’s next of kin and felt obligated to tie up any loose ends for his brother and his estate. The only problem was that the deceased person lived in an apartment that housed all his belongings. The apartment landlord was barring access to the apartment and holding the deceased’s vehicle in a hostage-type situation. This is far from an ideal situation. 

To recap, we have a gentleman who just wants to do the right thing for the memory of his brother. I think we can all relate to the emotions that this man must have been feeling. When it comes to going through end-of-life scenarios this is probably not one that many of us have envisioned. Namely, we all want to think that this process would be seamless for us and our families. However, as this man’s situation is making clear it rarely is. However, there are steps that you can take to avoid a potential problem like this one where your family member’s (or your own) property is being held hostage by a landlord with all the access and power. 

In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to discuss what it means to die without a will and what that can mean for the property of a loved one while you work to sort out all the legalities of the situation. Remember- if you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. 

How to gain access to a deceased relative’s apartment 

Gaining access to your relative’s apartment or rental home after he or she has passed can be tricky. Put yourself in the owner or landlord’s shoes for a moment. You have a tenant that you don’t know at all or maybe barely know. It’s not like if your brother lives in a 500-unit apartment complex he knows the person or corporation that owns that property. The landlord or apartment manager may be someone that he contacts if his hot water is on the fritz or if there is a leaky ceiling. Otherwise, he has probably interacted with the person very little throughout his staying at the apartment complex. There is almost certainly no way that the person knows your brother has passed away. 

Now, you enter the picture and are trying to get access to one of his apartment units. You show up and tell the person who you are and what you want. The landlord or apartment manager will probably look at you like you have three eyes and two heads and tell you that he can’t help you. A lot of legal red tape in a situation like this. His hands are tied, and the policy of the apartment is not just to let any person off the street gain access to one of their units in a situation like this. Liability and all that sort of thing, he coolly explains to you. He wants you to turn around, walk out the door you came in and never show your face around their office again. He may even give you bottled water for the road. 

However, you’re not the guy who just takes something like that laying down. Rather, you approach the situation as a concerned brother would. You want to know whether the landlord is within his rights to just tell you to look elsewhere for help in trying to access your brother’s belongings and vehicle. You have no idea what your brother has in that apartment, but you know that you had better set your eyes on it before someone else can. There are probably important documents, sensitive and personal things that he would prefer nobody else see. I think all of us have something like that where we would like to keep a private matter private and not out in the open for everyone to see. This is the backdrop for our discussion today. If you found yourself in this same situation, what would you do? More importantly, what could you do about it?

How to secure a relative’s belongings after he or she passes away

If your brother was renting an apartment, then you still need to contact the landlord or apartment manager to begin the process of securing their belongings. This is true even if you think that the landlord is not going to care about what you want. True, it could be that the landlord ignores your request and offers you some weak explanation of their duties, the law, and similar things as you approach them in an office setting. However, that is why we are going to go through this material today so that you will be better prepared for an interaction like this.

It could be that the landlord or apartment manager simply lets you access your brother’s apartment and does not try to put up a fight at all. There may not be any terms in their lease that bars a family member from access to the apartment if the tenant passes away. Most apartment complexes ask that a tenant fill out emergency contact paperwork and information. You can see if you were listed as an emergency contact in which case the landlord may simply allow you to access the home or apartment unit. I’m not saying that this is going to be the norm, but it could happen. 

On the other hand, I think it is much more likely that you will simply be denied access to the apartment or home. Again, putting yourself in the shoes of the landlord he or she has a different concern than you do now. You are concerned about your brother who just passed away and his belongings. The landlord is concerned that property that does not belong to your brother could be stolen or harmed while you go through your brother’s things. Additionally, if you manage to get a hold of your brother’s things then you could remove them. That way the landlord would have no power, sway, or collateral to be able to collect things like damage deposits, back rent, or anything else that he or she may legally be entitled to on behalf of the apartment complex. The landlord holds a lot of power in a situation where he can keep a vehicle impounded in their parking lot until further notice. This is the situation that our real-life brother found himself in when he spoke to one of our attorneys not long ago. 

Depending upon the lease agreement may be a right for the landlord or apartment manager to be able to take hold of certain types of property to get back rent payments. Under Texas law this is legal, believe it or not. What needs to be done is that the lease agreement needs to be examined closely to see what provisions are and are not included therein. Additionally, it could be that the landlord cannot immediately seize property belonging to your deceased brother and that a certain period must have elapsed before this can be done. 

When you are denied access to your deceased brother’s apartment or rental home then you should ask the landlord to prepare a written document that states specifically that you are being denied access. This can help you be able to go to court and obtain a court order to enter your brother’s home and begin to clear out his belongings. You can file an application for emergency intervention in a local district court to access your brother’s belongings. If granted access to the home, you can inventory the items that you find and remove property for safekeeping. 

Under Texas law, you would need to be able to wait at least three days after your brother has passed away before filing this application. However, you must not wait any longer than 90 days after they died to apply, either. You should attach to your application a statement in writing from the landlord which states that you attempted to gain access to the home previously and were denied permission to do so. If you are attempting to gain access to your brother’s checking or savings accounts to pay any bills or creditors that you are aware of you can perform the same action. 

All these steps should be undertaken only if you have not begun the probate process yet. The probate process is where a court will determine how to divide and distribute the property of your deceased brother. This can be started either if your brother had a will or died without a will. The court in that case would determine where his property could go based on the terms of the will as well as which relatives’ property could be distributed to if he died without a will. The court can also grant the administrator of his estate the authority to pay debts and do things like access bank accounts and apartment units. In a situation where you have started the probate process, you would need to turn over a copy of the letter of administration to the landlord. This is a document that gives the estate administrator (you) the authority to perform certain actions on behalf of your brother’s estate. The landlord would need to be able to grant you access to the apartment just as a bank manager would need to allow you access to their bank account in the same situation. 

Otherwise, the Texas Property Code says that a landlord should request that a tenant provide him or her with the name, address, and telephone number of a person to contact in the event of an emergency in the event of their passing. Additionally, the tenant should be willing to sign a statement that gives the landlord the ability to grant emergency contact access to the premises at a reasonable time and in the presence of the landlord or someone else who works for the apartment complex. Additionally, you would be allowed to remove any of your brother’s property found at the home and refund the security deposit after any deductions are taken out. That security deposit could be paid to you. Importantly, your brother or any tenant can and should provide this information to their landlord even if the landlord never asks for it directly. 

By the same token, a landlord can remove property from an apartment unit after he or she has passed away so long as that person was the sole occupant of the apartment. Any of these properties that you remove from the unit would need to be documented. 

As you can see, having a will does not necessarily make a difference when it comes to being able to access a deceased individual’s apartment or rental home. One of the things that your deceased relative hopefully did was provide the apartment complex or landlord with the name of a person who would be able to can access their home after they have passed away. This will make life much easier for you or whichever relative is listed as the individual who can access the property after he or she has passed away. If your relative has not provided this information to the landlord then the process of going through the court would likely be what is necessary.

When it comes to bank accounts, there is such a thing as a payable-on-death account that you and your relative could speak to the financial institution or bank about. This would be a document that your relative could sign which allows you to show up with a death certificate and immediately gain access to the funds in the bank account as well as Items in a safe deposit box. If you have a relative or another person who may be interested in this type of scenario, then you should make them aware of it so that he or she could act on it in the future.

The bottom line is that there are many steps that you or someone you know can take to secure their property and generally make life easier and more streamlined for those around them in the event of a death in the family. Having a will is a good idea for any person over the age of 18. However, there may be steps you can take outside of drafting a will that can help you and your family. All it takes is being willed to ask questions and be aware of your rights and duties. Thank you for your interest in this information and our law office. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions about the material you have read in this blog post or in any other that you find on our website.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material that you read in this blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed estate planning attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas estate planning as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a probate case. 

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