SMART MONEY: It is possible to navigate probate without attorney
April 07, 2013 1:50 AM

DEAR BRUCE: My wife passed away in early November 2012, and our car was financed in her name. It is a new car, and I still owe $8,500 on it. It was registered in her name, and when I called the bank about this, they told me I have to get a lawyer to put the car in my name by going to probate court. Well, there should be no reason to go to probate because there was no estate. I thought that when a spouse died, the surviving spouse would get whatever was left without going through probate.

I received a check from the insurance company for $250, the balance left after the funeral charges. Also, we have a mobile home that is paid for that I put up for sale for $35,000 and will end up selling, if I am lucky, for $25,000. It was in both our names, and the real estate lady told me that all I would need to sell it would be the death certificate. Is this true?

I am 73 years old and just have Social Security for my income.

How do I get this taken care of without hiring a lawyer I can’t afford? — Reader, via email

DEAR READER: Even though it may not be large, your wife does have an estate — her share of the mobile home. You can still file to have yourself named administrator of her estate if she didn’t have a will, and I would suggest you do so if this is the case.

There is no reason you can’t take her estate through probate without the services of an attorney. It may be difficult, but it can be done, and if you don’t have the money, there is no alternative.

I assume that you are retired, so, if nothing else, you have time to do this.

It’s entirely possible that you can tell the bank through the probate court that the car is in your wife’s name alone, and the court will offer to put it into your name.

As to the mobile home, you will have to go down to the county offices and ask how to transfer it to only your name. The real estate agent may be accurate when she says you have to show only the death certificate.

Send questions to or to Smart Money, P.O. Box 7150, Hudson, FL 34674. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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