How can I pass responsibility of an estate?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2010
Vickilue asked...

My aunt passed away suddenly in October 2008. She named me Power of Attorney for her financial affairs. It's been a mess and I thought MY part was over. I will try to condense the issue.

I became voluntarily responsible for getting her affairs in order. I thought I would find the updated will that I had signed, but unfortunately didn't get a copy, stating that I was executor. I didn't want to shrug my responsibility, and I loved her, and there didn't seem to be anyone else to do all the moving, estate stuff, etc.

I never found the updated will and trust. The lawyer "skipped" town and I got no help. I hired a lawyer and he basically said I didn't have to do anything as far as her estate, burial, etc. My aunt had a few brothers and sisters still living, but all 80+ years old. And she had her step-family who, except for one granddaughter, she said she despised.

The step-family were willed all of her estate (joke's on me). It's okay, I didn't expect any money, but I want THEM to be responsible for the bills that just keep coming. They have her money and I don't have any. I just received an IRS statement saying she owes her 2008 taxes, about $8500 with penalties. My address is still on file for her mail. I've notified USPS and anyone else I can think of that she's deceased and I don't want her mail. Should I start forwarding these bills to the two step-daughters that inherited the money, without even opening the mail? They're across country and this could get nasty. How can I get my address OFF the forwarded mail, permanently? Any suggestions on the bills (taxes)? What started out as a compassionate undertaking isn't so compassionate anymore. Thanks for your help.

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.

 From all you’ve written, it sounds as if your part in your aunt’s affairs IS over—except for the unfortunate matter of getting the mail and notices, which likely stirs up some grief and angst and anger and other confused and confusing thoughts for you.

But first, doublecheck.

Any power you had as your aunt’s agent in the power of attorney died when your aunt did, so you no longer have any rights or responsibilities under that document.

It sounds suspicious that you might have seen a version of your aunt’s will that might have been the most recent plan for her wishes. With wills, the most recent document usually controls—and effectively revokes or negates previous wills.

If you think it’s worthwhile there are additional steps you might take to locate that will. If you have access to them be sure to search desk drawers, file cabinets, closets in a home and office, computer files, and safe-deposit boxes. As a second resort, check with the local probate court, where it might have been filed, even before she died. And finally, you might give one more try to locating the attorney who drafted the new will by contacting the state bar; even if he left town, he likely gave a forwarding address if he is still licensed in your state.

If those steps don’t turn up any new information, then rest assured you have done all you can do—and then some.

You are not liable for your aunt’s taxes or other bills. Return requests for payment directly to those who sent them, with a simple note informing them that you are not the executor or the responsible next of kin.