Who can claim an estate when there is death without a Will?

A resident in our skilled nursing facility just passed away. We thought she had no family yet now they are here asking to take her things, as well as the court appointed legal guardian. What should we do – keep her things until all goes through probate or allow the family to take her things? She has expensive jewelry, furniture, etc. What are the legal steps that we should follow?

Asked on November 19, 2018 under Estate Planning, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

If someone comes forward with court papers (often called "letters testamentary") appointing him or her as the estate's personal representative or administrator (the equivalent of being the executor) with authority over the deceased's estate (what they left behind), you can and should give that person the belongings (and keep a copy of their authority for your files)--but only that person, no one else.

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