< Personal property disbute after death of long time companion with no Will – McGinty Belcher & Hamilton, Attorneys, PC

Question:
My companion of 15 years died recently and his children are asking to pick up a bunch of things that they say belong to him. My companion and I had never been married but we put the house into joint ownership with right of survivorship. There are also a number of personal things that we bought together, I bought individually, or he and I each bought to help take care of the house. I think I should be entitled to this property but his children are being quite forceful about demanding a number of those items. My companion didn’t have a Will. What can I do?
Answer:
It is fortunate that you and your companion put the house into joint tenancy which means that ownership automatically passes to you upon the death of your companion. The personal property is much more problematic. If your companion had left a Will, he could have provided for his own children to the extent desired, and you would have known ahead of time which items would have gone to them and which property would go to you. Without a Will, any property owned or purchased by your companion alone, legally, belongs to his children. However, they are not entitled to come into your home or your garage without your permission and simply take items which may be in dispute. If they insist on coming onto your property without permission, you can call the police and charge them with trespassing. Also, if they remove property which in fact belongs to you, they can also be charged with theft. The biggest problem with personal property is that it is untitled and proving ownership is difficult. I would suggest a negotiated settlement with them as to which items they can take and which items you should keep. If that doesn’t work, the children can probate their father’s estate but, again, they have the burden of proving which personal property they have a right to. This would be both costly and time consuming. This is a situation where it is in everyone’s best interest to try to work out a reasonable agreement. And, also a lesson to us all of the importance of having a Will.