Have you ever heard someone (maybe even you) say, “It doesn’t matter, it’s just a piece of paper”. We have helped to clean up some nasty messes that could have been avoided with “just that piece of paper”.

Recently an elderly Los Angeles woman was stunned to find out that the house she had been living in for 27 years didn’t really belong to her. She found out just before the auction. She told an L.A. Times reporter that she lived with the man she specifically referred to as her “husband” who owned the house before he died. But they were never legally married (Just a piece of paper?) which means that ownership and inheritance rights are not the same.

She also said that he “wrote” a will leaving the house to her, but that will doesn’t seem to exist (Just a piece of paper?) Because of that she claimed to be the executor (in charge) of the estate. If she had gone to court to become executor (Just another piece of paper?) of the estate, she wouldn’t have been surprised when the FOR SALE signs went up in the front yard. But the county is administrating the sale because no one prepared and signed legal documents (Just another piece of paper?) to avoid this nightmare.Apparently there were taxes owed on the home that she didn’t know about. Even those who are not administrating an estate, can ask for notice at the recorder’s office and the courts to stay informed of any actions (Just a piece of paper?).

Fortunately, there are possible remedies to alleviate her situation, and caring people who are trying to help. This story is not to bash anyone who hasn’t taken care of business or bash the people involved who are just doing their job. It’s an extreme but true story of what can happen when matters aren’t handled ahead to time with “Just a piece of paper”.

There are people who think they’re married to someone, but are not because that person is really married to someone else because they didn’t bother to file the documents to get a divorce judgment first (Just another piece of paper?) There are people who think they own a house, but don’t have any property rights because they are not named on a deed (Just another piece of paper?). There are people who think they can get information or represent their spouse but can’t because they’re not named in a power of attorney (Just a piece of paper?). There are parents who have no legal custody rights to their children because they didn’t marry the mother or petition the court for them (Just another piece of paper?). The list goes on and on.

If you’re not sure of where you stand on certain issues or what you can do to avoid future problems, do your research and consult with a licensed professional if needed. Then make sure all documents are in order for the protection of the parties with just another piece of paper.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice, but is informational and general in nature.
Read “Woman, 78, could lose home in probate confusion. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-adv-elderly-evict-20130427,0,812944.story.