Can my estranged stepmother report my recently deceased fathers ATV stolen if its in his name?

Truck is tied to ATV loan as collateral. My father told
3 people he wanted me to have the ATV before he
became too sick and passed. The ATV and truck will
be repossessed in 33 days unless someone pays the
note. I told her Id pay the note but I was taking the
truck and the ATV. She let me take it from the
property giving me keys and truck title. Afterwards,
she informed me that two days before my fathers
passing, witnesses say he was barely lucid, lots of
hospice provided medications, he told her to keep it.
Shes been estranged for 8 years prior to his terminal
diagnosis. Now shes threatening to report it stolen
and shes not the registered owner nor is she joint on
it.
I have witnesses to him saying it was to go to me
and witnesses to his condition during the time she
claims he said that to her. Theres no will. Im not
child from previous marriage. I had witnesses when
she gave me keys and titles. Will the cops do
anything? After I left, she waited 2 hours before
texting me saying I took it and she wanted it back
etc.

Asked on January 9, 2019 under Estate Planning, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

What he told you, even in front of witnesses, is irrelevant if it was not in a will, and you say there was no will. Only a properly signed and witnessed will controls what happens to property after someone dies, and any other expression of their wishes has no power at all.
If there is no will, your father's assets pass by "intestate succession"--the rules for who gets what when there is no will. That means that you (plus any other children of your father) and your stepmother as his spouse (even if estranged, if they were still married, legally she was his spouse) essentially split or share in everything he owned--including the ATV. (This is somewhat of an oversimplification, but is close enough for this purpose.)
BUT complicating matters:
1) Until his estate is probated, his property does not belong to either you  or her--it belongs to the estate. And she could not simply give you an item from the estate--she lacked the legal authority--unless she was appointed the estate's personal representative by the court, and even then, she couldn't give it to you until the probate process has been concluded.
2) If there is a loan on the truck and the ATV, you have no right to them unless the loan is paid off in full: when your father died, the loan became due in full immediately, and if it's not paid, those vehicles can be repossessed the lender. They cannot be transferred to or given to anyone without the loan being paid.
So your father's oral wishes meant nothing, and there are two reasons the vehicles could not legally be given to you then. You taking them is illegal, and you could face legal consequences. Return them.


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