Dear Ms. Allison: My mother died a couple of years ago. When she did, my stepfather put his name on the house. It is the house my grandmother gifted to my mother to give to me and my sisters upon her passing. My mother did not get around to writing a Will and putting the house in myself and my sisters’ names as she had informed us she was going to do. My aunts and uncles all know that my grandmother wanted the house to stay in the family. Do my sisters and I have the right to my mom’s home? VB in Okmulgee County

Dear VB:

Circumstances under Oklahoma law will determine your rights. But first, you must know what is not right:

Your stepfather cannot simply put your mother’s house in his name. No bank, title company, or court land records office would allow that. The court land office would require that your mother, in her right mind, add him to the deed and change the title to Joint Tenants With Rights of Survivorship or show a bill of sale to him.

However, you say she did not get around to doing that for you and your sisters. So are you saying he committed fraud, exploitation, or coercion? For instance:

· He forged your mother’s name, or

· She was not in her right mind when the deed was drawn up, or

· He pressured her in an impermissible way to get her to sign over the deed.

Unless you can prove that the deed got into your stepfather’s name in one of these reprehensible ways, you have no legal standing to dispute his ownership or the legality of the deed. The property title trumps everything.

You do not have the right to property just because someone says she is going to leave it to you or that someone from a previous generation said she wanted it to stay in the family. Talk means nothing in this situation. You must have legal documentation that this was her wish and proof that he got himself on the deed illegally.

If you feel you have less than perfect documented proof, you can always hire an estate litigator to sue your stepfather and hope for a well-mediated settlement. Hiring a mediator with experience in estate and elder care issues is a wise choice.

This is a very good example of why no one should wait to prepare his or her estate plan and should update it every 3-5 years. A written, legally executed estate plan could have prevented this situation. If you plan to keep property in the family there are estate planning lawyers who will explain the options to make sure that happens for many generations to come.

That’s your question, Asked and Answered. My best to you,

Gale Allison

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