How to Find Out if You Have an Inheritance

How to Find Out if You Have an Inheritance

It doesn't just happen in the movies: it's possible that in real life, a relative has passed away and left you a part of their estate. But how do you find out?

The answer depends on how you think the money might have been left to you. When most people ask whether they have an inheritance, they are thinking of the probate estate of the deceased person, also known as the decedent. So the first thing to do is to review the decedent's probate case.

When a person dies owning money or other assets in their sole name (as opposed to trust assets or assets held jointly with another person, like a house or joint bank account), that property must go through probate after their death in order to be administered to heirs. This is true whether or not the person had a last will and testament.

Probate matters are public record. If your deceased relative last resided in Montgomery County, Ohio, for instance, their probate case would be filed in the Montgomery County Probate Court. You would be able to look up, and look at, any documents in the case,. This would include a will if there was one, as well as any inventories or accountings of estate property.

Claiming an Inheritance if You Were Named in a Will (or if No Will Exists)

If you were named in the decedent's will, the executor of the state is required by law to try to locate you and notify you of the decedent's death and your interest in the estate. So you should not have to worry that if, say, you were estranged from your family, they would neglect to notify you of your share of the estate.

Be aware, however, that while the executor of an estate is required to make reasonable efforts to notify you, they are not obligated to do everything possible to track you down. Sending notification to your last known address, or publication in a newspaper, may constitute sufficient notice. If you have relatives who are elderly or in ill health, it's in your best interests to let your family know how to contact you.

What if the deceased didn't have a will? If you would have inherited from the decedent under Ohio intestate law, the administrator of the estate is still obligated to try to locate and notify you. If you cannot be located in a timely fashion, and you are entitled to an inheritance, the funds may be placed in trust so that the decedent's probate estate can be closed out. If the funds are not claimed, they will eventually escheat to the state.

Your first step, if you believe you may have inherited through someone's will or by intestacy, is to examine the records of their probate case, which you can do through the Probate Court of the county in which they lived at the time of their death. These documents will contain the name of the attorney who represented the estate; he or she may be able to offer further guidance in locating and claiming your inheritance. Remember, though, that that attorney represents the estate and the personal representative, not the heirs. It may be necessary to retain an attorney of your own for advice and advocacy in claiming your inheritance if necessary.

Finding Out if You Have an Inheritance Outside a Probate Estate

Of course, there are means other than a will or intestate succession by which to receive property from a deceased relative. If the relative named you as beneficiary of a trust, the trustee, like the executor of a probate estate, should make efforts to locate you. You may also have been named beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

If a deceased relative owned real estate and you were named as a joint tenant (joint owner) on the deed, ownership of the real property would have passed to you upon the decedent's death. If you suspect you may have been named as joint tenant on any property, you can look this up through the County Recorder for the county in which the property is located.

If you suspect you may be entitled to assets from whatever source from a deceased relative, you can do a nearly nationwide search online. For assets of Ohio decedents, you can go to the Ohio Division of Unclaimed Funds website to conduct a search. You should look not only for items in your name, but that of the relative from whom you believe you might have an inheritance. Common types of unclaimed property include bank accounts and the contents of safe deposit boxes, insurance policies, stocks and bonds, certificates of deposits, and escrow accounts. In some cases you may be able to successfully claim the asset you're entitled to by filling out a form and presenting proof of identification; in others, you may need an experienced probate attorney to advocate on your behalf.

Categories: Inheritance