When an individual dies, his assets pass to his beneficiaries according to the terms outlined in his will. If he did not leave behind a will, he died “intestate,” and the probate court in the county where he lived distributes his remaining assets according to state law. As the child of the deceased, you may be entitled to an inheritance regardless of whether your father left behind a will. The will's executor or the probate court must notify you of any inheritance you are scheduled to receive after your father's death. The probate process, however, is not perfect and beneficiaries do not always receive proper notice of their inheritance. If you suspect you may be entitled to a portion of your deceased father's estate, you have several options, depending on whether your father left a will.
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Visit the county court in the county where your father's will was probated. If the probate process is complete, your father's will is a matter of public record. You can search the public records held at the courthouse for your father's will to determine whether he left you any assets. If you do not live in or near the county that holds your father's will on record, that does not mean that you cannot access it. Some probate courts maintain a public records database online. This allows you to search for your father's will – and your potential inheritance – without ever leaving your home.
Visit your state's unclaimed property database and conduct a search under your father's name. If any assets he left behind after his death went unclaimed, the state manages the money until the rightful heir comes forward. Although some states make an effort to locate the rightful beneficiaries of unclaimed assets, not all have the time and resources to do so. Thus, it's sometimes up to you to locate your unclaimed inheritance.
Contact the executor of your father's estate. The executor of your father's will is responsible for managing his assets and debts following his death. This responsibility includes notifying beneficiaries of their inheritances. Because the executor has a copy of your father's will, the executor will know how much of an inheritance, if any, your father set aside for you.
Contact the administrator of your father's estate if he died without a will. An administrator's responsibilities are similar to an executor's. When an individual dies without leaving behind a will, the court appoints an administrator to ensure the deceased's assets are distributed according to state law. The administrator of your father's estate can explain the contents of your father's estate and how much of that estate you are entitled to under your state's intestate succession laws.
Tips & Warnings
- If you do not know who was the executor of your father's will and obtaining the information from other family members is not an option, the name of the executor is contained within the will's public record at the county courthouse that probated your father's estate.
- If you discover you were entitled to an inheritance that you were not notified of and did not receive due to the executor's or administrator's mismanagement of the estate, you may have grounds for legal recourse.
- Not everyone who dies leaves behind an estate. If your father's debts exceeded his assets, he died “insolvent” and there may not be an inheritance for you to claim.
References & Resources
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Settling the Estate
- Mobile County Alabama: Welcome to the Records Division of the Probate Court of Mobile County, Alabama
- MSNBC: You Might be Rich! Here's How to Find Out
- Steve F. Bliss Law Offices: What Does An Executor Do?
- Ohio State Bar Association: Administering an Estate Without a Will
- Law Offices of Janet Brewer: Dealing With an Uncooperative or Dishonest Executor or Trustee
- American Bar Association: The Probate Process
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