Q: My father passed away in March. About a year before he died, he gave me the keys to his house and cars. My dad then moved into my grandmother’s house. She was his power of attorney until his death.

At the time he died, the house and the cars were all legally in my name. My grandmother is telling me I don’t have legal rights over the house or cars. But she does not have the power of attorney anymore.

She gave my father’s cars to my uncle even though I paid all of the expenses for the cars, did the maintenance and made sure the title was in my name.

The house has my name on the title and I’ve put about $20,000 into the plumbing, painting, and maintaining the house for me and my family. My brothers want to tear the house down and get the money for the land.

We’re going to probate court in February. I want the house because I’ve taken the time to clean it and fix it up. What do I do?

A: My condolences on the loss of your father. You need to hire an estate attorney or real estate attorney who can help you figure out what you own at this point. Just because your father left you the keys to his house and cars doesn’t mean you own them. If your father not only gave you the keys to the home and cars, but also transferred the title to the cars and home to you, you should be the legal owner of the home and cars.

Your grandmother may be under the mistaken assumption that the power of attorney she had gave her the power to undo actions taken by your father. She would be incorrect. However, if your father was unable to handle his affairs and your grandmother had power of attorney, or had been assigned the right to manager your father’s affairs, the transfer of the cars and home to you could be undone by your grandmother.

An Estate Attorney Can Help

At this point, you really need the help of an estate attorney to tell you whether your grandmother has any reasonable basis for taking the actions she did. If she did not, those cars are yours and whoever has them should be unable to transfer title to them without getting title from you. You would be entitled to retrieve the cars from them.

In all of this it’s critical to know whether your father owned the cars and home when he transferred them to you, whether he had the capacity to transfer them to you, whether he took the necessary actions to actually transfer title to the cars and home to you, and whether there are any other factors that would entitle a third party to contest the transfer of the cars and home to you.

Once you answer these questions, you’ll have a better clue how to proceed with your grandmother and other family members. Even if you it turns out that your father did not properly transfer title of the cars and home to you, you might have rights in probate court to part of your father’s estate. Once in probate court, you can make your claim to whatever improvements and maintenance expenses you have made to the home and seek reimbursement for them. You should expect to be asked to document the expenses (try to hang onto your receipts) so you can prove what you paid for.

Your attorney should be able to help you further.

Published: Dec 20, 2008