WHAT'S THE LAW?
Aunt needs title to inherited property
: My aunt needs help with a property issue. She is the only survivor of three sisters. One of her sisters, who died leaving no husband or children, held title to some undeveloped property. My aunt, as the closest remaining relative, would like to be able to ensure that the property can pass to her grandson upon her death. This decision is uncontested in the family. However, my aunt does not legally have title to the property as it was never probated. Is it possible to probate the property, which is worth less than $10,000, with little or no expense? And, if so, is it possible for it to pass directly to her son if no one contests the decision?
Answer: From Janet Kelly, Legal Aid Attorney: For your aunt to pass the property to her grandson, she would generally need to have ownership of the property in addition to having some sort of will or trust detailing the gift of the property to her grandson. She might be able to pass the property directly to her son if other interested parties are willing to disclaim their interests. However, there could be adverse tax consequences, so speak to a tax attorney or specialist first. To transfer title to the property, you must check if a probate was filed in the deceased's resident state. If the Hawaii property was not included in that action, you would need to check with that state's rules regarding reopening the probate to handle the Hawaii property issue, and into ancillary probate, which is a probate proceeding in a state other than the one a deceased person resided in at time of death. If no probate was filed, you could file a probate action in the Hawaii Circuit Court where the property is located. If the value of the estate is less than $100,000, and a representative has not been assigned in Hawaii, the court clerk can be authorized to handle the estate and assets. The cost for this service is 3 percent of the market value of the assets in the total gross estate, plus miscellaneous fees. For details, contact the Circuit Court's Estates and Probate branch where the property is located: Oahu, 539-4767; Maui, 244-2823; Hawaii, 961-7440; and Kauai, 482-2300.
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii operates statewide. Practice areas include housing, public benefits, consumer and family law but not criminal law. For information, call 536-4302. Submit questions by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
or by U.S. mail to Legal Aid Q&A, 924 Bethel St., Honolulu, HI 96813.