Dear Dale: My mother died in Florida in 2003 and left me half of her personal possessions in her will. My sister was named executor of the estate, but she hasn't provided me with any financial information and I haven't received half of my mother's jewelry collection, which has an appraised value of $50,000 to $100,000. To make matters worse, I'm in Ohio and the estate is being handled in Florida. What can I do?
ANSWER: If your mom's will is valid, you're entitled to whatever she left you. Things can get tricky in this area depending on the type of assets and property your mother owned at the time of her death. Some of the assets may never have had to go through the probate process. An example would be if your mom owned a condo that listed your sister on the deed as a joint survivor. In that case, the real estate would transfer directly to your sister, regardless of the will. The same could be true for a bank account - if your sister was listed on the account, the money could go straight to her rather than through the probate court.
If your mother owned real estate, you might want to look at the recorder's Web site in whatever county the property was titled. You should be able to look at the language of the deed to see whether your sister or anyone else was listed on it. Another thing people should consider in these types of situations is that wills can be changed. Even if you have a copy of your mother's will, it may not be the one that was valid at the time of death. People can change their wills and leave the property to whomever they want, though spouses can claim a portion of the estate even if they're not in the will. If your mother left your sister everything in an updated will, there's not much you can do short of contesting it by showing your mother didn't have the mental capacity necessary to make a will or that your sister exerted undue influence over her.
Dear Dale: I'm the mother of a college student who entered into a lease for a duplex with two other students. The students didn't get along and one of them moved out. Initially, all three continued to pay rent, but one of them eventually missed a payment. Also, the landlord billed the students for the heating costs, which all three quit paying because they weren't living there. The lease runs through August, 2007. What is each student's obligation?
ANSWER: The obligation of each student depends on the terms of the lease. Like any contract, the two parties can fashion the terms of the agreement within the constraints of Ohio's Landlord-Tenant Law. In this case, I'm guessing that each of the students is responsible for seeing that the landlord gets paid the full amount of the rent, regardless of any agreement between the roommates on how to split the rent. In other words, your child could be on the hook to the landlord for the full amount of the rent depending on how the lease is written. It's possible, though probably unlikely, that each student is only responsible for a portion of the rent.
The students, though, may not have to pay all of the rent due through August. After the breach of a lease, landlords must make a reasonable effort to find other tenants in order to limit their financial losses. That said, I'd advise tenants in this situation to try to find new renters as a way to cut down the amount they could owe. That approach helps the landlord and the tenant.
Dale Emch practices law at the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC, in Toledo. In his column, he will discuss general legal principles and answer readers' questions. Neither Mr. Emch nor The Blade present or intend his column to be taken as legal advice. Readers seeking legal advice should consult with an attorney. Readers should send their questions to Mr. Emch at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dale Emch, 520 Madison Ave., Suite 655, Toledo, OH 43604.
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