Rights of husband over son
The brother of a friend of mine lost his wife quite suddenly yesterday. They lived in a warden assisted bungalow in her name. Whilst he was out today dealing with some of the immediate repercussions her son, who hasn't been in contact with her for over 17 years, turned up and the warden gave him the emergency key to the bungalow and allowed him to keep it.
Some details I've managed to find out. She made her son next of kin many years ago before she married and this is what he claimed to the warden to gain access.
My questions are: Does the husband have any rights to prevent the son from entering into what is his home for the moment?
Can he change the lock (albeit giving the warden a key and requesting that he doesn't hand it over again)?
She recently came into quite a substantial inheritance and although she made a will we don't yet know the contents.
The poor man is devastated and could really do without this on top of his grief.
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The actions of the son appear impolite in the circumstances although he may be grieving too.
How did her son become aware of the death?
Is the bungalow owned by the deceased wife solely in her name?
What does the will say - this is most important - in particular who is the executor and who are the beneficiaries?
The son only has any rights if he is the executor and the widower can ask him to prove that by getting probate before he allows access, if the widower wishes.
If the son is execuor and he proves this by obtaining probate then from what you have said so far, he will own the property (albeit potentially on trust for the beneficiaries which might be the widower) and therefore will have a right of access.
Note that "next of kin" has absolutely no legal meaning - it might be worth asking the warden to clarify why they gave access to someone who presumably was not in possession of a death certificate, a will and/or a grant of probate as they are leaving themselves rather open to legal action should anything untoward happen.
Even in the worst case that the son has become the legal owner of the property that doesn't give rights to just move in or come and go as you please - imagine if any landlord could just enter your house whenever they wanted. He would have to go through proper processes to evict your dad.
I might run a check with Citizens Advice or even the cops, but I would be looking to change the locks ASAP. Does he need to give the warden a key? If not, don't bother.
Is the flat owned or rented? If rented, is it possible that the tenancy could pass to your friend? Your friend would need to find out the landlord's policy on this, which could be on the landlord's website or could be easily found out with a phone call. If owned, your friend would need to understand what the terms of ownership are, as retirement flats often have strict terms in place. Either way, your friend will be struggling to deal with his wife's death but perhaps you can be with him when he speaks to the Warden to explain that the son has no right to enter the premises and no right to a key. Unless there's anything in the tenancy agreement or lease to the contrary, your friend can change the lock without giving the Warden a copy key. I'd be putting in writing to the landlord confirmation of changing the lock and why a duplicate key must not be given to anyone/only to a named person, say, your brother.
I think that, until the content of the lady's Will is known, it will be a case of keeping the son at arms length. The first thing would be to send or take a copy of the Death Certificate to the solicitors who hold the Will. Then, when the contents are known, your friend can decide his next steps.
One final thought occurs, not as a serious point but perhaps worth keeping in your back pocket. People who claim to be next of kin can find themselves liable for funeral costs if no one else steps up. You have evidence in the form of an independent witness, that the son claims to be next of kin. I'd be asking him where the undertaker should send their invoice. Again, I'm not suggesting your friend does this.
The son only get anything IF there is a new will leaving him anything or more than that in the intestate estate.
And the next of kin has no legal status but would only be relevant IF the deceased was still alive. So a rocket needs to go up the warden's rear end. Start by contacting the most senior manager and changing the locks.
'They lived in a warden assisted bungalow in her name. '
So, the warden may not have even known that the husband lived there. I can’t see any point having words with the warden, as the husband has no responsibility for staff training and has other things to worry about right now.
Apart from that, if the will doesn’t make adequate provision for the husband, he may have to make a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The claim must be made within 6 months of the date a grant of probate or a grant of letters of administration is issued.