Do I have a right to know my mother's will and medical history, now that she's passed?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 19, 2016
Cschwab123 asked...

My mother died a year ago. She was 72 years old. I want to know if I have legal rights to access her medical records? I was the closest daughter to my mother, but during the last six months of her failing health, my step-father and I had an argument over him acting in her best interest as the decision maker for my mother. He would not get second opinions from the doctors and I questioned if the doctors did everything they could do to save her life.

Before my mother got sick, she was very active and able to lead a very normal life. During the last 9 months of her life, she went in the hospital and stayed many times for weeks at a time. I received the information from the doctors during the first three months, but after that the information seemed to be held from me unless I confronted the doctor while making rounds in the hospital while visiting her.

I also want to know if I have any legal rights to things of my mothers. I had always had a good relationship with my step-father until I questioned him doing the best he could for my mother during the last 6 months of her life. After her death, I was not included on any distribution of my mothers things, and do not know if she had a will still in place. I don't know if there was any probate or anything done.

Frankly, I am broken hearted at losing my mother, but I really want to know if I have any rights to any of her things. I still posses a key to her house that my mother gave me years ago.

My mother had a house, jewelry, savings accounts that probably had $100K in them, her house that she held jointly with my step-father, and cars. Since everything was likely held jointly, do I have a right to ask for some of my mother's things? Do I have a legal right to do anything legally?

Expert Answers

I do not know what state your mother lived in. That state's law will control what rights, if any, you have here.

I doubt if you have any rights to her medical records. Under federal law, medical records are private, unless the patient gave written authorization that a specific person has rights to access her records. And even that authorization would probably end with the death of the patient.

If you filed a malpractice lawsuit against the medical providers here, you might well be able to obtain your mother's medical records. But from what you've stated, I see no grounds for a malpractice action. Moreover, you'd have to pay a lawyer to file and prosecute the suit (assuming you could find a lawyer willing to do so.)

I think that, unfortunately, it's unlikely that you have any legal rights to any of your mother's things. If all her property was held in joint tenancy her husband, your stepfather, he has the legal right to that property on her death. And no court proceedings are filed to collect/transfer joint tenancy property.

Of course, if your mother had a will, and left you any property in that will, you have a right to that property. The problem is determining if your mother left a will. If she knew that all her property was held in joint tenancy, she may have decided that she didn't need a will. Even if she had a will, how could you get ahold of it? Not easily. You could try checking at the county probate court in the county where your mother died. If there was a probate proceeding filed, it should be listed under her name.

If you can't locate a will, all you can do is: 1) Ask your stepfather if there was one. This may not be a good idea, as it might merely serve to alienate him; 2) Ask your stepfather for some of your mother's property that you were particularly fond of, perhaps some jewelry or other personal items.