Locked Out of Home in Probate
by Kenneth brothers
Visitor Question: My house is in probate, and the electric and water were turned off. I live in an old historic home. They won't allow me to live there until it is fixed but they won't let me fix till the house is in my name even though I have a paper from county clerk's office stating that I'm the manager of the estate.
Editors Reply: This sounds like a very distressing situation for you and for many others who are suffering through the same kinds of problems.
We are not attorneys, but we cannot think of any legal way for you to occupy the house you presume that you will soon own. Maybe you have been living there all along too.
The only advice we can offer for you right now is to make sure that you provide any and all information required for the probate process as quickly as possible. In addition, you can use your time out of the house to plan for how you will fix the code enforcement problems once you have access to the house again.
This last part might be tricky, since you won't be able to get bids from contractors until they can inspect the inside of the house. If you are planning to do the required work yourself, you can be looking for the materials you need, planning your projects, looking for economical solutions to code enforcement issues, and making sure you understand what the codes require.
Also you may want to talk with your local legal services office to see if there is anything else that you can do to obtain temporary access in order to do repairs. Some legal services offices (might be called legal aid) around the country have units that actively work on these kinds of issues.
Taking a longer view toward the needs of the whole community, your tough life lesson might lead you to tell everyone you meet about the importance of every property owner having a will and doing whatever is necessary in California to avoid probate.
When a property is tied up in probate, usually nothing good happens to that house. People cannot get a loan for necessary repairs, they cannot sell the home with a clear title, and sometimes, as in the case of this gentleman, they cannot even get access to what they will soon own.
Also it is very common for disputes among possible heirs to arise. Everyone reading this should help others overcome their fear of dealing with attorneys and the legal system enough that they can leave a will. That may or may not be sufficient to avoid the many problems that we have written about more extensively on our heir property page.
Neighborhood leaders and activists should be focusing on this issue, which impacts communities severely in some cases. Especially if a particular community is lower-income and especially if it tends to mistrust attorneys and the legal system, it is important to combat those fears with realistic information about the suffering that this may cause their heirs and the potential for neglect of the property completely if the probate system takes 9 months, a year, two years or more if heirs cannot be located or cannot agree.
This is a big problem, folks, and we need more concerted effort to make sure that property owners are prepared for what will happen when they die or are incapacitated. Both individual heirs and communities suffer when this is not addressed.