A Rambling Man

Barrett lost his father over the holidays. Barrett has no idea how to handle the estate. His father's address was a P.O. box with no permanent residence. What's the best way to begin to probate the estate?

QUESTION: Barrett in Phoenix lost his father over the holidays. He and his brother hadn’t spoken to their father in about 20 years. Barrett has no idea how to handle the estate. His father was 68 and receiving Social Security and VA benefits. His address was a P.O. box with no permanent residence. What’s the best way to begin to probate the estate?

ANSWER: I would move the trailer. There’s not anybody as far as you know who’s going to have claims on any of this. You’re not moving it to hide it or something. You are the apparent heirs unless there’s a will. The first thing I would do is go through the trailer and see if you find a will. If you find a will and it’s all left to his German Shepherd, then you’ve got to think about something else. If you and your brother are the apparent heirs, then you can start acting like heirs without any trouble. That’s a practical piece of advice—not legal advice.

You’ll need to contact an attorney. You’re in Arizona; he had a P.O. box in Arizona. I might contact an attorney there. Just ask where you should run this thing if you choose to run it. It sounds like it may be very clean. I’m going to guess and say no will, which would leave him with two heirs—you and your brother. The normal process to run probate is to run an ad to creditors in the newspaper, and after that runs, after so many days, then you would sell the R.V. and the 18-wheeler and that money would be disbursed to you and your brother. It’s a pretty simple procedure. But there are several steps and a little bit of legalese. I don’t think you’d be in bad shape to move the thing there and park it there as long as you don’t find something weird in the R.V. that indicates you’ve got problems.

If he has debt, then the debt would have to be paid out of the proceeds. When you die, you make two columns: assets and liabilities. What you own and what you owe. What you own has to stand good for what you owe. If his debts are larger than the value of these vehicles, then the estate has a negative net worth. There’s not going to be much sense in doing hardly anything here. You may want to go through a few steps, but it’s an exercise in futility. You’re not going to end up with anything. The debt doesn’t jump over on to you. You don’t have to worry about that, but you can’t take the R.V. and not pay the debts. You need to send a death certificate to VA and Social Security and have all that cut off.

I think you probably need an attorney because this is weird. He doesn’t have a state of residence. Where he lived when he died is where it should be probated, and that’s unclear because he was in gypsy mode. I don’t know if it’s Florida or Arizona or if you want to pick one. Arizona is probably as close as you’ve got to a residence, but he didn’t literally have a domicile there. I’m not an attorney, and you do need one. If I were in your shoes, I would spend a couple of hundred dollars on this just to keep yourself from getting burned by leaving out a step. I don’t want you to put $10,000 in your pocket after selling these things, and then some character comes along and tells you there’s $30,000 owed on the estate. That’d be kind of inconvenient and less than fun.