What Happens When Someone Refuses to Accept Their Inheritance?

By River Braun, J.D.

What Happens When Someone Refuses to Accept Their Inheritance?

By River Braun, J.D.

A will determines the people or entities—called heirs—who will receive property after a loved one passes away. There is nothing in the law, however, that forces heirs to accept their inheritances.

Most people are thrilled when they find out that they are receiving an inheritance. It is hard to imagine that someone would not accept, but it does happen occasionally. Read on to learn how a bequest can be refused and what happens to the property under these circumstances.

How an Inheritance Is Refused

The act of refusing an inheritance is often referred to as a disclaimer. State laws typically require the heir to sign a waiver stating that they do not want the property entitled to them from the estate.

Some states require heirs to disclaim property within a certain time period or it is automatically transferred to them. Heirs must also decline the inheritance before they receive any portion of it.

What Happens to Disclaimed Property

When an heir refuses an inheritance, they do not have any say in who will then receive the property. The heir would need to accept the item in order to give it away or sell it.

If the will names an alternative heir, the disclaimed property is transferred to this beneficiary. If the will does not name an alternate heir, the inheritance reverts to the estate for distribution according to the state's intestate laws. Intestate laws direct the distribution of property when a person dies without a will.

Intestate laws vary slightly by state, but most states give the property to surviving spouses and children first. If there are no surviving spouse or children, the property typically passes to other family members with immediate relatives given priority over distant relatives.

Reasons Someone Might Refuse an Inheritance

The reasons for disclaiming an inheritance vary, but some of the most common reasons for refusal include:

  • The financial burden of maintaining the property may be overwhelming. For example, the property taxes, insurance, and upkeep on an older home may be too expensive for an heir to pay.
  • The person may not want the property or may not like the items.
  • A person may be planning a divorce and does not want to take the chance that the property may be subject to marital property division laws.
  • An heir may be contemplating a bankruptcy filing and does not want the property to be sold to pay their creditors.
  • The individual may want the property to go to someone else.
  • The taxes generated by the inheritance may be too expensive.
  • The inheritance may interfere with a person's eligibility for government assistance programs.

Whatever the reason for refusal, the person executing a disclaimer must be absolutely certain they do not want the inheritance. After an heir executes the disclosure, they have no legal interest in the property and cannot force the estate to reverse the disclaimer.

Are you administering an estate and dealing with an heir who is refusing their inheritance? Seek advice from an online service provider to help you execute an estate.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.