My ex-wife of one year was murdered. We have two small children together. Recently, her mother applied for determination of heirship, independent administration, and issuance of letters of independent administration and served the document to me.

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My ex-wife of one year was murdered. We have two small children together. Recently, her mother applied for determination of heirship, independent administration, and issuance of letters of independent administration and served the document to me.

I don’t understand why they are wanting me to
‘sign off’ on this application if I never
expressed any interest in the deceased
property. Can my ex MIL use this to somehow
to take full custody of kids from me? Can she
use this to stop social security benefits for
children coming to me?

Asked on February 27, 2017 under Estate Planning, Texas

Answers:

B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Your mother-in-law is pursuing a probate remedy to settle your ex-wife's estate.  an heirship proceeding is where the probate court will determine who the actual heirs are of your ex-wife's estate. Your children will be natural heirs.  She has to have your sign off for the children because you are their guardian.  Independent administration is her asking the court to appoint her or someone else as the administrator or executor of he state so as to decide 'who gets what'.  The letters are basically an acknowledgement of notice of the proceedings. 
So, as a general rule, probate is not used to determine custody or family law issues.  In some cases, a litigant will seek to establish certain custody rights in the probate court....but this is not the proper venue.  The proper venue is the family law courts and if that is among the relief she is requesting, then that portion of the case should be severed and sent to the family courts.  This means that without seeing the actual documents that your mother-in-law is asking you to sign, an attorney cannot tell you that she is attempting to take full custody from you or stop social security benefits from coming to your children.  However, based on what you just described here, it does not sound like she is....but you should really have an attorney at least review the documents to be sure.  It is always a good rule to never sign a legal document that you do not understand without having an attorney review it first.


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