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My mother passed away. She left a will saying who should receive which items. However, my mother's will lacks a lot of useful information. For example, the will does not state where the title document is for the house. It has been agreed that we will sell her house, but I have no idea where to get the ownership papers.

If my mother had a safety deposit box, I have no idea which bank that safety deposit box is. 90% of my mother's belongings went to the local Good Will. We combed through anything for important papers, keys, etc... but did not find a title to the house, or anything regarding a safety deposit box.

My mother's attorney, who I hoped might have some relevant documents, has retired, wants nothing to do with managing my mother's estate, has declined to be her "personal representative," and says he doesn't know anything about her affairs.

My mother lived alone for many years up until her death. Nobody was living with her.

I am in the United States. Specifically, my mother's house was/is located in Arizona.

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The "title" is an abstract right: your mother has title to the house. There is a physical document, the deed, which establishes that she has to the property. When a person obtains title to real estate, the new deed is generally recorded with the county recorder, and the title insurance company will get the relevant documents. It is possible but unlikely that the transfer to your mother was done informally: read this if you think that is the case, and hire an attorney to fix the mess.

As far as finding the safety deposit box is concerned, you could assume that if she did business with Bank X that that is where the box is (look on bank statements for rental charges). Or you could contact every bank in the area. Or wait some number of years, when the lease on the box expires (plus 3 years, for Arizona), at which point they drill the box and the contents go to the state unclaimed property pile (obviously the worst solution to the problem). If you have an idea where the box is, you take the paper work (death certificate and letters of testamentary) in with you.

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The original Will must be filed with the court with probate jurisdiction in Arizona in the county in which she resided when she died along with a petition by a person with priority to be appointed as personal representatives of her estate with waivers from anyone else with equal priority to be appointed.

The court upon receive of those papers will issue a document called "letters testamentary" which appoints the person who applied for the position the status of "personal representative" of the estate (formerly known as "executor") and recognizes the will as valid (assuming that no one contests it).

The personal representative has the obligations of a trustee with respect to the assets that she owned at her death (assuming that the property was titled in her name) and can sell the house or transfer it in kind (depending upon what the will provides) with a personal representative's deed. If the transfer is in kind and is not specifically mandated by the will, a court order authorizing the transfer may be required.

The ownership of the house is a matter of public record and could be determined with an ownership and encumbrance (O&E) report from a title company. You do not need originals of the title documents.

I would recommend hiring an attorney for the job as you do not have a basic context for how the process works and would need to spend lots of time and effort to understand it and might still get it wrong, while an attorney could do so in a straight forward manner and explain all of the tasks that the personal representative must carry out to do the job lawfully and convey good title to the house.

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