Taking Possession of Abandoned House

by darnell
(Houston)

My mother had got married to this guy and she passed away. He has abandoned the house. How do I go about getting back into my home?

Editors Reply: The first thing to check is to make sure it is actually your home now. Has your mother's estate passed through the probate process? If not, there is still time for people to file potential challenges to your ownership.

It may be that either your mother had a trust document, so that probate court is not necessary, or that her total assets were lower than your state's threshold for the amount that must pass through the probate court process.

But the first step would be to make sure there are no issues with your actually owning the house.

If your mother died without a will, the laws of the state where she lived will govern how her property is disposed of. Possibly the law will say that the property goes to a surviving spouse, regardless of the length of the marriage. Or possibly, she left a will and named you as the person to receive the house.

In any case, make sure you actually own the house. If you are not positive, you might have to consult an attorney or your local legal services office if you cannot afford a private attorney.

So let's say that you go through these steps and you are the sole owner and everything is legal about that. Then your problem is simply to break into your own house, if that is easy to do, or if not easy, hire a locksmith to get you in. Then you will need to change the lock, in case of future trouble with your mother's husband, and just get on with either moving in or renting out the house.

Now just because we are writing a publicly visible web page, and people other than the other questioner will see the page, let's say that the late mother's husband is still the legal owner of the house.

In that case, since he apparently does not want to live there, and you either want to live there or do something else with it, you will need to deal with him to try to buy it. We are pretty sure that doesn't feel good to hear, but that is the way it is. You cannot simply move into an abandoned house, even if is one that you or a loved one once lived in.

Now let's deal with a third possibility, which is that the ownership situation is unclear. Because of either a will or the laws of your state regarding people dying without a will, perhaps you, siblings, and-or the bereaved husband share in ownership. If ownership is shared, then all of you will need to agree on whether to sell the house or try to rent it out. If it is to be rented out, you could be the tenant if you want to live there, but you would need to pay some rent to the others, with the amount to be agreed upon by all owners.

If the ownership just isn't decided yet, make sure you have either started the probate process in accordance with the laws of your state. If you are somewhere in the middle of the probate process, and you expect to end up receiving the ownership of the house, it may be possible for you to move in, if a court and possibly other suspected heirs agree.

If you need help with learning who truly owns the house, and whether you need to go through any steps to take possession, again consult either a private attorney or an attorney that you obtain free through your local legal services office. You need to take care of this right away; in most states, it only becomes harder to resolve as time marches on.

We know that in many households, the idea of talking to an attorney is really scary because it is an expensive proposition, or it might be scary for other reasons. But taking possession of an abandoned house is one of those times in life when there really is no substitute for good legal advice unless you are sure where you stand.


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