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Minor Grandchild Inherits Abandoned House

by Concerned grandma
(Columbia, SC)

Visitor Question: My son has been deceased for two years. His daughter is a minor. The minor's mom is my deceased son's ex-wife. She (the ex-wife) first laid claim on her daughter's property (my granddaughter’s future property) and lived in it. Now the house is abandoned and the city is threatening demolition.

The joint guardians, mom and grandmom, of this minor child have neglected to probate her inheritance for her. What to do? My son would not want his daughter to lose her inheritance due to their neglect.

The house is fully paid for. It is a Columbia, S.C., abandoned house now. The city is threatening demolition. Windows have been broken. The front door appears to have been kicked in.

Editors’ Reply: We are sorry to hear of your loss. This dilemma must be very painful for you.

It is very important for you to obtain legal advice right now. If you cannot afford a private attorney, consult with South Carolina Legal Services or another organization in Columbia that provides free legal services (call pro bono services). This is important because you need to understand the exact legal status of your son’s estate right now. That attorney may have some ideas about what can done that haven't even occurred to us city planners.

Sometimes the local bar association will offer a free service for answering simple questions by phone. If this is available in your location, you will be able to ask them for some basic information about how the probate process works in your city.

If you are not located in Columbia yourself, you should at least call these organizations to see what help might be available to you. If nothing else, they can tell you how to contact the probate court that would be supervising the disposition of your son's estate.

If your son left a will, it will name an executor. If there was no will, the probate court will appoint an administrator. (Both executors and administrators may be referred to as a "personal representative.")

In any case, the probate court should be moving along the probate process. It is not the responsibility of your son's ex-wife or her mother to probate your granddaughter's inheritance, as you phrase it; indeed only the court can do that. But the court has a responsibility to make progress on settling the estate, so if that is not happening, you need to find out why not.

So our first piece of advice is to contact that court and find out what has been done so far, and what to expect by what deadline dates. Ask for the name of the administrator or executor of the estate. Explain more than once that you are the mother of the deceased. The court probably will be glad to hear from you. Be sure to inform the court's representative that the house is being vandalized and threatened with demolition.

Our second piece of advice is more relevant for a community development website such as this. Please call the city of Columbia today, find the office responsible for the threat of demolition, and inform them of the situation. Ask politely but firmly that any condemnation of the house be postponed until there is an opportunity to resolve your son's estate. Tell them of any progress you are making in determining the status of the probate process, and assure them that you are very interested in the outcome. Ask what must be done to stabilize the house so that it will not be demolished. Find out what legal justification they must have before they can order demolition. For example, is a full condemnation procedure required, or can the city demolish what they consider dangerous buildings and slap a lien on the property to pay for the costs of demolition?

We hope you will be able to alter the course of events so that your granddaughter can have this currently abandoned house preserved for her use in the future.

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