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Tampa Estate Planning Attorney > Blog > Probate > What Are Lost Heirs, And How Can They Cause Trouble During Probate?

What Are Lost Heirs, And How Can They Cause Trouble During Probate?


You should never use your estate plan as a way of getting back at family members who have hurt you, but there is no rule saying that you must leave part of your estate to a family member from whom you have been estranged for years.  Actually, there is a rule, and it is called the law of intestate succession.  Under the law of intestate succession, your estate goes to your closest surviving relatives (by blood, adoption, or marriage) if you die without a will.  If you write a will, you can disinherit any or all of your relatives, if you so choose; the only exception is your spouse, who can claim a statutory share of your estate.  If you are estranged from a family member, you might be much happier now that they are out of your life, and you may never want to think about them or talk about them again.  Even if you choose not to leave anything to the estranged family member in your will, your estate plan should acknowledge their existence, if only to be clear about the fact that they cannot inherit anything from you.  As unpleasant as it is to put it in writing that you do not want an estranged relative to inherit from you, if you don’t take action now, you risk them resurfacing as a lost heir when your estate goes to probate.  A Tampa probate lawyer can help you take the necessary steps to account for lost heirs so that they cannot cause trouble during probate.

Estranged Family Members Have a Right to Know That Your Estate Has Gone to Probate

When the probate court opens your estate, the personal representative must notify all the people referred to in your will as beneficiaries of your assets.  It must also notify all persons closely enough related to you that they might claim to be entitled to a share of your estate, even if your will does not mention them.  People who fit into either of the above categories whose contact information the personal representative of your estate does not know are called lost heirs, and the longer it takes the personal representative to find them, the longer it takes before your estate settles and the beneficiaries get their inheritance.  Note that, in the context of inheritance law, “heirs” does not necessarily mean that you left these people money; it is not a synonym for “beneficiaries.”

To make life easier for the personal representative of your estate, list detailed contact information for all the beneficiaries in your will, even if this means updating your will every time one of your children, nieces, or nephews moves to a new address.  Also make sure that the personal representative of your estate, or your estate planning lawyer, knows the contact information of family members you have disinherited.  If you do not know the contact information of your estranged relatives, a forensic genealogist can help you find it.

Contact an Attorney for Help

An estate planning lawyer can help you avoid unnecessary stress for your family members and non-family beneficiaries of your will.  Contact David Toback in Tampa, Florida to set up a consultation.



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