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My Dad Died and His Wife Won't Tell Me Anything About His Property
In addition to this page, please see also: Collecting Assets
We often get calls from people whose relative in Las Vegas died and they want to know if they are supposed to inherit anything, but typically the decedent's wife, often a new wife, won't tell them anything. What can a person in that situation do?
Part of the answer is that the Clark County Assessor's office (Las Vegas is in Clark County along with the cities of Henderson, Boulder City, North Las Vegas and Mesquite) offers free, public, online access to who owns all real estate (other than timeshares) in the county. http://www.accessclarkcounty.com/ASSESSor/
By going online you can see if your relative owned real estate and if so you can see if the real estate was titled solely in the relative's name or if it was held jointly by the relative and another person. If the property was held solely in your relative's name, or if it was held by your relative and another person as tenants in common, then a probate proceeding will be necessary to transfer title of that property to another person. However, if the property was held in joint tenancy by your relative and another person, then the other person automatically owns the property if your relative dies first and the other person only has to file your relative's death certificate and an affidavit of the death of a joint tenant to obtain good title to the entire property. (In the large majority of cases if there are two people listed as owners of real estate, the two people hold the property as joint tenants.)
If the property was held in a trust, you may or may not be the beneficiary of the trust. Unfortunately, there is no requirement that a trust be publicly filed or that property distributed through a trust be distributed through a court appointed process. The trustee of a trust is obligated to give any person who is a beneficiary at the time of a distribution a copy of the trust if requested, but if you only think you might be a beneficiary and the trustee won't give you a copy you have no recourse but to sue which is an expensive undertaking.
Another way to try and find out if your relative died with a will leaving you anything is that under N.R.S. 136.050, http://www.leg.state.nv.us/nrs/NRS-136.html#NRS136Sec050 , if someone has a will of a Nevada resident who died, they are supposed to file the will with the court or give it to the executor named in the will. However, the penalty for not doing so is only that the person who failed to do so might be liable in civil damages to someone suffering a loss by the failure to file the will. There typically is no criminal penalty for failing to file a will. (To be more precise, the mere failure to file the will is not a criminal violation; however, the failure to file the will coupled with other acts could be criminal misconduct. For example, Dad writes a valid will leaving all his assets to girlfriend. Son destroys the will and files a probate proceeding for all of Dad's assets under the law of who gets what if there is no will; that would definitely be criminal conduct.) To look for a will filing, Google, "Clark County, Nevada, District Court," and when you get to the court's website, click on 8th Judicial District Court, then click on family court and then do a search by name to see if a will was filed or a probate opened. Another way to search for earlier filed wills is to Google, "Clark County, Nevada, Probate Court." As of this writing, the first search terms that comes up will allow you to click on "Wills Index." This will show the name of the testator and date of filing. To actually see the will you will have to go the courthouse or contact them about getting a copy.
However, when the Decedent leaves a spouse and adult children (whether from the surviving spouse or an earlier spouse), if the portion of the estate which needs to be probated is not over $100,000, the surviving spouse is entitled to the probate estate. In addition, to the extent that the probate estate is community property, the surviving spouse may take all up to a probate estate value of $200,000. Property held in joint tenancy or in a trust is not part of the probate estate. Life insurance proceeds are not part of the probate estate unless there is no beneficiary on the life insurance policy who survives the Decedent or unless there is a portion of the death benefit that has no beneficiary who survived the Decedent. Therefore, in most cases, the surviving spouse is in a much stronger position than the adult children.