Does my step-daughter have the right to take my deceased wife's belongings?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My wife passed away unexpectedly in ohio. My step-daughter is the executor of her will which does not specify who gets what belongings. The step-daughter came in our house and took belongings yesterday. Can she do this even though we were married?

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.

While an executor has the duty to protect and manage a deceased person's property until it is distributed, it sounds as if your step-daughter's actions may have been a bit heavy-handed"”particularly if the property was safe and sound as it was. I'm assuming an appeal to her common sense fell on deaf ears.

At a minimum, the step-daughter should be keeping an accurate accounting of all property she removed"”along with an estimate of its value. To protect yourself, you might want to reconstruct an accounting of your own.

If you distrust the step-daughter or her motives, you may want to have another person present during your step-daughter's "visits."

You should also be aware that an Ohio law protects surviving spouses by giving them the right to elect to take a share of the net estate"”in an amount ranging from 1/3 to ½, depending on who else survives.

If it doesn't seem that your step-daughter will be willing to work openly or to respect your wishes for privacy, or if you suspect she may be ignoring or unaware of your rights as a surviving spouse, you may want to ask the probate court for help.

Some courts will easily require a supervised probate procedure; in some places, such requests are not easily honored"”and you may consider hiring an experienced estate planning lawyer for help.