Can we sue in small claims court for sentimental items?

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Can we sue in small claims court for sentimental items?

My mother died last October with no will. In November I placed a caveat on my mother’s estate to stop my stepfather and his kids from throwing out my mother’s things before my brother and I had a chance to get sentimental things. The house is a mess as they were hoarders. We asked for one day to go through the house to find sentimental things and the things my mother said we could have. My stepfather has repeatedly said he was going to give us access to the house or give us sentimental items then changed his mind and has refused us access to the house and gave us no sentimental items. Now he has filed to be the administrator. I know I can answer and ask that I be named administrator because my stepfather is extremely mentally unstable as well as physically not in good health. I know NJ 3B 10-2 says he should be since he was the spouse but I don’t know which law or statue says that he shouldn’t be based on a person being mentally unstable. What law or statue says this? However if I decide not to reply to the order to show cause asking to be administrator but instead just want a day at the house that we grew up in to get sentimental items should I be asking the judge for this in response to his filing or should we just decline to reply to the filing in probate court and let him be the administrator but sue him in small claims court for our sentimental items? Would we be suing for a dollar amount that we believe the items might be valued at or actually name a list of items that our mother said we could have? A side note you should know is that my mother’s estate is not worth anything. There is more owed on the mortgage then the house is worth. My mother always said the house should go to me but I don’t need or want the house just sentimental items. I need to file a reply by Friday and cant get a lawyer because Im on ssd and can’t afford a $5,000 retainer. So unless someone is willing to help me for a lot less then 5,000 I am on my own in representing our side of all of this.

Asked on April 23, 2018 under Estate Planning, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

The law does not put any value on sentiment or emotion: all you can sue for in a lawsuit, and all you are ever entitled to, is the economic value of items, which is what they are worth, in dollars, *now* given their age, condition, etc. So trying to recover or sue for things whose value is primarily sentimental is a losing proposition except emotionally; you need to decide how much effort you are willing to put (and how much cost to bear) for sentiment.


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