What can I do if my husband and I were separated and when he died his brother collected all of my husband’s personal possessions, as well as his ashes?

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What can I do if my husband and I were separated and when he died his brother collected all of my husband’s personal possessions, as well as his ashes?

He died unexpectedly. We had 1 child between us who is grown. My husband and I were still really close. He lived with our mutual friend, although he was visiting at his brother’s when he died. Neither his brother or mother called to inform me of his passing; they called our son in another state and my son called and told me. He had been dead for 12 hours before anyone knew. His brother then went to where my husband was living and took all his belongings. He also took over any and all funeral proceedings and cremations without my knowledge and only had me come and sign the paperwork for funeral home. He now refuses to give me the remains or my husband’s belongings.

Asked on January 24, 2016 under Estate Planning, Oregon

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

In your state, if there was no will and your husband's only child was with you, then *you* inherit everything under the rules for "intestate succession" (who gets what when there is no will)--the brother and your son have no right to his belongs or to his remains. You could sue to recover your husband's personal belongings (or their monetary value, if they have been disposed of) and his remains. You are advised to retain an attorney to help you, not only for the lawyer's legal skill and experience, but also to act as a buffer between you and your husband's family, but you could bring these actions yourself if you can't afford a lawyer. (You should be able to get filing instructions and possibly sample forms from your county court.) Note that matters are also complicated by the fact that your husband's estate must be administered, meaning that matters have to go through probate court, too--another reason to let a lawyer help you.
If there was a will, while it needs to be probated, the will determines who gets what and who controls burial, etc. You need to look to the will to see what should have happened here.


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