What Happens if You Wait Too Long to Claim Your Inheritance?

Pocket Watch on Dollars

Receiving an inheritance is often bittersweet: on the one hand, you've likely lost someone dear to you, but are receiving some tangible remembrance of them. How long do you have to claim? And can you wait too long to claim your inheritance?

Chances are, you won't have to do much at all in order to receive what you are entitled to. The executor of the deceased person's estate is required to notify you if you are named in the will. If the deceased died without a will or estate plan, the administrator of the estate is required to notify you if you would inherit from the deceased under Ohio intestacy law.

If your whereabouts are known and you are entitled to inherit, the executor or administrator will distribute your share to you in order to be able to do a final accounting and close the estate. You don't have to affirmatively request it. Understand that even if you were bequeathed a certain amount, you may receive less than that if the estate didn't have enough assets to both satisfy creditors' claims against it and fulfill all bequests.

When Does Your Inheritance Become Available?

When your inheritance is available to you depends on two things: how soon after the death the probate estate is opened, and how long the estate takes to wrap up. Ohio has no strict time limit to start probate, but there's rarely a good reason to delay. In general, the fewer assets in an estate, the fewer heirs, the fewer creditors, the more quickly it will be resolved and inheritances distributed. Of course, if there is a will contest or other dispute necessitating probate litigation, that may greatly extend the length of the probate case and delay distributions.

What If You Did Not Receive Notice of a Probate Case?

In most cases, executors of an estate have ready access to the identities and addresses of known heirs. If you were estranged from the family, or not in contact with them for whatever reason, the executor may not have known how to reach you. You may have been "notified" by publication in a legal newspaper, which it's likely you never saw.

If you are entitled to an inheritance, it doesn't just disappear if the probate case must be closed before you can receive it. Instead, it is deposited in a fund with the county in which the probate case was opened. Many counties have a searchable database of these funds. Alternately, you can contact an experienced probate attorney who works in the county where your decedent resided. He or she can advise you on the best way to determine if you have an inheritance and what you must do in order to claim it.