Can my aunt take all my dad's stuff?

3 answers | Last updated: Jun 28, 2010
Shadow99 asked...

My dad has been taken off life support and my aunt, his sister, took all of his belongings out of his apartment before he passed just because she was the person to be notifed on his lease. Can she do this? My dad has no will and a retirement and I am his oldest daughter. How do I find out who his beneficiary is?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

It sounds as if your aunt acted so quickly that she alarmed a few people, including you. But perhaps she was just trying to be helpful, and to stay busy during this stressful time. Whether it was rude or premature or even mean-spirited doesn’t matter now. The deed has been done.

Your remaining concern now is probably how to divide any remaining property. The funds in many kinds of retirement accounts pass directly to the named beneficiary at death. It will be easiest if you’re able to locate any document related to the account. If not, begin by contacting your dad’s former employer for direction.

Because your dad died without a will—or “intestate” in legal jargon—her property will be distributed according to the formula set out in state law: mostly likely, to your mom if she’s still alive; if not, divided equally among the surviving children. To find out the exact letter of the law in your state that dictates which beneficiaries get property in what amounts, do a search of your state’s name, plus the words “intestate succession.”


Community Answers

Lus728 answered...

Laws differ from state to state. From a practical point of view, the real question is: Other than the personal insult, how much does it really matter? As an attorney, I can assure you that the cost of arguing over principle may not be worth the expense. It does not make it hurt any less, or make it any less unfair -- but sometimes you simply have to make that choice,move on, and never speak to the aunt again.

Brenda s answered...

I understand your pain. It hurts so much to be treated as if you don't exist and that you may want some items to cherish as a legacy from your dad. The day of the funeral of my grandfather, distant relatives backed up a van and took anything of value plus all of the photographs. Since my father was an only child and I was the only grandfather, it particularly hurt beacuse I have no photos of my grandparents and great-grandparets to reminisce besides the few taken with me when I was a small child. It still pains me 10 years later. However, stuff doesn't matter as much as memories. I will cherish the memories I have forever. (and still secretly hope that one day I will receive an anonymous package with the treasured photos)