How do I find out if my late mother had a Will?

I had not been in contact with my mother and she passed away. Her husband and I do not get along and he refuses to give me any information about my mother’s belongings and heirlooms that I am entitled to. How can I find out if she had a Will and am I entitled to get items that my mother had promised me in the event of her death?

Asked on June 15, 2016 under Estate Planning, Oregon


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

If your mother had a Will, it may have already been entered into probate. To check on this, you can contact the Probate Court in the county where she resided at the time of her death. If it was filed, it will now be a matter of public record so anyone see it. However, if she had a Will that has not yet been filed, if you were a beneficiary (i.e. not disinherited), you should have been notified of your inheritance by the executor of the estate. Also, if there was no Will, then as one of your mother's heirs you would have a right to inherit. Typically, the surviving spouse and children of the deceased share in the estate; the exact share is dictated by specific state law. In any case, if the estate is/was not properly distributed, you have legal rights that can be pursued. At this point, you should contact the probate court in question and/or consult directly with a probate attorney. Just note that, some assets can be transferred outside of a formal probate. Therefore, if your mother had a small estate, property may have been transferred by affidavit or the like. Additionally, some assets may have been held as "joint tenants with right of survivorship", in which case the other joint tenant would have received your mother's share by operation of law. Further, funds in an IRA, pension, 401(k), or other retirement plan, as well as life insurance proceeds, pass outside of probate and go directly to named beneficiaries. 

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