My father died in October 2015, leaving behind 4 adult children and a wife of 18 years. There was no will. He had cancer and I offered to pay the attorney fee for him to do his will, but he did not. His home, rental properties and other pieces of property, were purchased long before the marriage. My father and stepmother owned a business jointly. There were multiple bank accounts at various banks in Louisiana and Mississippi. I went on permanent disability in 2012 and am the only forced heir of the estate.
On the property where my dad’s house is, he had built multiple “outbuildings”. These outbuildings housed the contents of the business that my dad had started in 1967, the belongings of my grandparents, and cars and parts that he collected as a hobby. I was told that the value of these items is in excess of $150K.
There is a mortgage on the property where the business is located. The only other debt was a loan that my dad and stepmother had cosigned for a nephew. He defaulted and there is a balance owed of $75K +. He filed bankruptcy when the bank started garnishing his wages.
The stepmother did not expect that we would request family belongings, such as our grandparents and great grandparents things, along with some things that had been my mother’s. She gave us a few items, but refused to allow us the opportunity to go to the house and claim any other pieces of personal property.
In January, 2016, my sisters and I filed the succession, with the assistance of an attorney. Shortly after the succession was filed, the stepmother appointed a convicted felon as her power of attorney and wrote her will naming him as sole heir. He has been and continues to operate the business.
Since the succession was filed, we were given the opportunity to go and do an “inventory” of the property where the house is. We were allowed to set aside items that we wanted, but more than a year has passed and given the nature of our relationship with the stepmother, those items are likely gone.
There were safes on the property and on the day of inventory the stepmother claimed to not have keys or codes to unlock them. The deputy sealed the safes. They were to be opened by a local locksmith, but after threats, he refused.
The case stalled and the attorney we had hired, quit returning phone calls. I’ve sought legal representation outside of the parish, but am very near giving up and am almost to the point of proceeding with the case pro se, but it’s such a complicated mess. I don’t know whether it’s worth pursuing with the defaulted loan that is outstanding. I don’t know how much of my dad’s assets are missing, since we never found any of his guns or his coin collection, both of which were substantial. I don’t know if the stepmother and her POA/heir will ever be held accountable for all that they have plundered. I don’t know if we will ever get an accounting of the rents collected and profit & loss statements or other documents from the business.
I’ve been given conflicting information, particularly regarding the stepmother’s continued use of the house, which is deteriorating. Does she have the right to continue to use the property? Do I proceed? How do I proceed?
It doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are a few questions or statements of fact to narrow the issues:
1) Without a will, all of his separate property would go to his four children in equal shares.
2) You being a forced heir would not matter since a forced heir is entitled to one-fourth of the estate which would be your share anyway as one of 4 children.
3) A spouse does not get a usufruct over separate property where the children at issue are not of the marriage.
4) It seems to boil down to whether the cost of continuing this is worth what might be recovered. You have already stated you recognize that fact.
5) There has been a great deal of time for things to have been hidden or disposed of by wife and her agent.
Even if she had a valid usufruct, that can be revoked if the usufructuary allows the property over which she has a usufruct to deteriorate.