Dear Len & Rosie,
My partner of the past ten years passed away recently. He did not have a will. His only assets were a mobile home and $42,000 in a money market account. He has three grown sons with whom he had not been on speaking terms for the past four years. Although we did not live together, my name is on the title of the mobile home as a joint tenant.
His sons have become hostile toward me. Is there any way they would have rights to any proceeds I might receive from the sale of the mobile home? Also, I have paid for all of my partner’s burial costs with my personal credit cards. Do I have a legal right to be compensated by his evil sons? I was just planning on absorbing the cost, but since they are causing me so much grief, I would like to make them pay if they are legally bound.
You should not have to worry much about the mobile home. It’s yours as the surviving joint tenant. All you need to retitle the mobile home in your name is a death certificate and California Department of Housing paperwork the title insurance company will prepare for you in escrow when you sell the mobile home.
Your partner’s sons could try to sue you for the mobile home. They could claim that their father lacked mental capacity when he put it into joint tenancy with you, or they could claim that he was the victim of your undue influence. It is not likely that his capacity will be in question, especially if he added you to the title of the mobile home years ago.
An undue influence claim can be made if you procured the documents adding your name to the home and your partner held you in a position of trust and confidence. If this is the case, then the burden of proof may be on you to show that your partner gave you his home of his own free will and not as the result of your “manipulation”. Not that we’re saying you manipulated him, of course.
Realistically, his sons probably do not have a good case, and there’s not enough money involved to get most lawyers excited enough to offer to take the case on a contingency fee. This means the sons will have to sue you on their own nickel, and they are not likely to do that.
The sons could be made to pay your partner’s funeral and burial expenses if they are inheriting the money market account through their father’s estate. The estate is subject to the creditors claims and the costs of funeral and burial expenses. But, if they are willing to grudgingly accept your ownership of the mobile home, it’s probably better to follow your initial instincts and let them keep the money.
The lesson learned here? It’s best to have an estate plan, even if it’s a simple will. If your partner had hired a lawyer to prepare a will for him, the lawyer and his or her staff would be available as neutral witnesses as to what your partner’s wishes really were with respect to the disposition of his assets.
Len & Rosie