Common Problems With Inheritances

by David Montoya
Complex inheritance issues may require professional help.

Complex inheritance issues may require professional help.

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Inheritance issues can lead to several problems including estate property passing to a different beneficiary and intended beneficiaries being left with nothing. These issues arise from defects in the testamentary document -- wills and trusts, for example. Probate courts weigh all the evidence and make an equitable decision when faced with inheritance problems.

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Vagueness

Testamentary documents such as wills require specific language for the probate courts to understand and ensure the administrator of the estate carries out the final wishes of the deceased individual. Vague descriptions make this task more difficult. For example, suppose a will leaves "a car" to both a son and daughter when the estate includes one car and one motorcycle. The court must make a decision, based on all of the evidence, which individual should take the car and which should take the motorcycle.

Mistake

A mistake in testamentary documents can lead to beneficiaries inheriting the wrong property since no one may catch the mistake. If a beneficiary can find a mistake, she can alert the court to make a determination on the existence, correct the mistake, leave the will in its current condition or invalidate the corrupted section.

Beneficiary Accidentally Left Out

An intended beneficiary not mentioned in the testamentary document usually cannot take estate property unless protected under state laws. For example, wives, husbands and children usually have a right to take a share in the estate even if left out of the will by accident, although the laws on this matter differ from state to state. Intended beneficiaries without protection from the law must show evidence to the probate court demonstrating the accidental omission.

Beneficiary Has Passed Away

Wills sometimes leave property to deceased beneficiaries if not updated on a regular basis. Depending on your state laws, property left to deceased individuals can pass to the deceased beneficiary's heirs or inherited by other beneficiaries. Determining which beneficiaries can take property when left to a deceased person can turn into a confrontational situation and may require the assistance from legal professionals.

Multiple Testamentary Documents

Multiple copies of testamentary documents with different directions go to the court, which determines which copy is in fact the latest copy. This circumstance usually occurs when the deceased fails to destroy old copies of the testamentary document when making updates. The probate court looks for evidence such as dates or the most updated description of estate property and existing beneficiaries.

Divorce

Inheritances can potentially increase alimony and child support payments at divorce. An inheritance is usually treated as separate property, meaning it is not divided at divorce. Even though a spouse may not have a legal claim to inherited property, courts look at a person's entire financial situation, including inherited property, when determining support payments and ability to pay.

Property in Another State

Property inherited but located in another state may fall under the jurisdiction of that state. For example, a beneficiary in California may have to go through Arizona probate court if he inherits a piece of land in Arizona even though the rest of the estate property is located in California. Multiple jurisdictional inheritance problems add a layer of legal complexity that may require professional assistance.