How to find out if you have an inheritance
Typically, people learn about inheritances through the instructions left behind in a deceased person’s Last Will and Testament.
The person who wrote the Will, known as the testator, may let their beneficiaries know about this document well before their death. But this isn’t always the case.
When the testator creates their Last Will and Testament, they appoint an executor to carry out their instructions and close their estate. So, at the very least, the executor will know who stands to inherit assets from the deceased—and it’s their job to contact the beneficiaries and administer the Will.
When someone dies without a Will
When someone dies without a Last Will (i.e., they die intestate), the government in the state where the deceased person lived administers their estate. In this case, the state appoints an administrator to oversee the division of assets. Certain family members may apply for this role, or the court may appoint a government agent. In any case, the administrator will contact anyone with a right to inherit from the deceased’s estate. States have a pre-determined formula for inheritance rights. Typically, the priority for inheritance starts with a person’s spouse, then their children, and finally their next closest relatives. After clearing debts and settling the deceased’s final tax return, the administrator distributes the inheritance to the beneficiaries.
So, if you have a relative who died without a Last Will, check your state’s laws to see if you’re entitled to an inheritance. Claiming it could be as simple as identifying yourself as a rightful heir to the proper authorities.
When the beneficiaries are unreachable
Although it’s uncommon, it’s possible that a beneficiary can’t be contacted.
Generally, the executor or administrator (i.e., personal representative) of the deceased must make every effort to contact a beneficiary, and they must prove to the court that they did so. If beneficiaries are unreachable (or they don’t accept the inheritance), the remainder of the estate typically becomes state property.
States have different rules for reclaiming this property, but there is typically no statute of limitations for filing an application regarding an unclaimed inheritance. In other words, an estate may remain unclaimed for many years before a beneficiary even becomes aware of it.
If you believe you missed the communication about an inheritance you’re owed, contact a lawyer to learn the process for reclaiming these assets in your state.
How to challenge a Last Will and Testament
If you believe you’ve been unjustly left out of a Last Will and Testament, you can only make a legal challenge in certain situations.
Each state has legislation that governs how and when someone can contest a Will. Generally, it’s possible to contest a Will if you have grounds to believe:
- The testator lacked mental capacity
- The Will is not legally valid
- The Will is fraudulent
In any of these situations, the burden of proof will be on you. That means you’ll have to spend time and money in court proving that the Will doesn’t meet legal requirements.
You’ll need to refer to your state’s law regarding estates and probate to get through this process. Again, it’s best to consult a lawyer to see if this is worth the effort or if there’s another, more affordable option for achieving your goals.