Minnie M. and Mike were married for nineteen years before he died. Mike had two adult children, a son, Jonathan, and a daughter, Katherine, by a previous marriage. Mike’s will left IRAs and their home to Minnie and the rest of his estate to Jonathan and Katherine. Jonathan was named as executor. 

A week following the funeral, Jonathan demanded that Minnie turn over to him his father’s guns and a vintage Thunderbird. Several days later, Katherine demanded that Katherine surrender the Haviland china and Waterford stemware, insisting her father had promised her anything that had belonged to her grandmother. 

Katherine’s first instinct was to submit to the pressure from her stepchildren, but something stopped her.

“I don’t know what to do,” Minnie told her sister, Janice. “Jonathan and Katherine don’t always get along. What happens if I give Jonathan the car and Katherine decides she was supposed to have it?”

“Wouldn’t Mike have made a specific gift in his will if he wanted one child to get something in particular?”

“I suppose so, but I don’t want them thinking I’m trying to hold onto what’s theirs. It’s not that. I don’t want those things. I just don’t want any trouble.”

“Maybe you should see a lawyer and get some advice,” Janice replied.

Minnie consulted a lawyer and here’s what she learned.

“You must not turn over any property of your husband’s to anyone other than the duly appointed and qualified executor or other personal representative of the estate. You will be liable if the property goes to the wrong person.”

“Mike named Jonathan as executor. Can turn everything over to him now?”

“No, because Mike’s will hasn’t been offered for probate yet.  Any interested person, such as you or the children, must apply to probate the will.  Then, after proper notices are given, the court determines at a hearing whether Jonathan is qualified to be executor. If the court issues ‘Letters Testamentary’ to him, then he has the authority to collect Mike’s property. Only then can you legally relinquish the property to Jonathan.”

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth, Texas. She lives and practices in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.