Claiming Title to Deceased Person’s Home is not a Light Matter

Dear Mr. Premack: I inherited part of some properties in McMullen and La Salle Counties. My mother and aunt still show on the deed as owners, but they are both deceased. I have both of their Wills. My mother left her share to me and by two siblings. My aunt left her share to her kids. How do we get our names on the deed? Also my cousins have not contributed to payment of the property taxes in over 15 years. Can we claim their share? – SJ

It sounds like 15 years or more have passed since your mother and aunt died. Sitting on the Wills without taking legal action was not the right thing to do. There is a four-year statute of limitations on becoming an Executor under a Will. It must be taken to court and reviewed by the Judge within that four-year period or your rights under the Will may be forfeit.

You could try offering the Wills for probate as “muniment of title” but you’ll have to get consent from (or give official notice to) the “heirs at law” before the court can rule. You’ll also have to prove to the court that the delay beyond four years was an error or oversight on your part.

If the court cannot admit the Wills to probate, then the heirs at law become owners. They can provide evidence of their status by filing “affidavits of heirship” with the two different county clerks. The identity of the heirs at law depends on the structure of these two families and on your mother’s and aunt’s marital histories. You will likely never have a deed to the property – just the legal documents filed with the county clerk that prove your ownership.

Can you take your cousin’s shares because they have failed to pay their share of the taxes? You are thinking about “adverse possession” which is an exceedingly complex area of the law, and which would require a lawsuit called a “trespass to try title” claim. For that type of action, you need an attorney who both handles complex real estate issues and who is a litigator.

Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and a Five Star Wealth Manager (Texas Monthly Magazine 2009-2013) practicing estate planning and probate law in San Antonio.

Original Publication: San Antonio Express News, September 3, 2010

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