For most people, the ability to know with certainty what will happen to their assets after they are gone is a primary benefit of creating an estate plan. When all goes as planned, your estate assets are distributed precisely as the terms of your Will or trusts dictate. What happens, however, if an intended beneficiary and/or heir does not claim the inheritance? In that case, what happens to the assets? The Coral Gables probate attorneys at Stivers Law explain what happens to an inheritance if no one claims it in Florida.
Understanding the Probate Process
Before discussing what happens to an unclaimed inheritance, it helps to understand the legal process that follows a death. When someone dies, that individual leaves behind an estate made up of tangible and intangible assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. To ensure that those assets are transferred correctly, the decedent’s estate goes through the legal process known as “probate.” If the decedent left behind a Will, the terms of that Will are used to determine what happens to the assets included in the Will. Anyone who inherits through a Will is referred to as a “beneficiary.” If the decedent died without a Will, the decedent is said to have died “intestate.” Assets left out of a Will are also considered intestate assets. Intestate assets are distributed according to the state’s intestate succession laws and anyone who inherits intestate assets is referred to as an “heir.”
How Can an Inheritance End Up Unclaimed?
There are two ways in which assets can end up unclaimed. The first is when a beneficiary or heir to the estate has been identified but cannot be located or fails to claim the inheritance. The second way occurs when no beneficiaries/heirs exist in which case assets “escheat” to the state.
During the probate process, beneficiaries and/or heirs are identified and notified that the estate is being probated and that they are potentially entitled to an inheritance. The beneficiary/heir must then follow proper procedures to claim the inheritance or to disclaim the inheritance if they do not want it for any reason. If a beneficiary predeceased the decedent, a properly drafted Will should make it clear who inherits the beneficiary’s share of the estate. Likewise, if close family heirs do not exist, the state intestate laws dictate that the inheritance be passed on to more distant relatives. In short, probate laws are designed with the goal of passing on all a decedent’s assets to someone related to the decedent if a Will fails to distribute all assets.
What Happens to Unclaimed Assets?
If all efforts have failed to identify, locate, and distribute estate assets to an heir of the decedent, those assets will escheat to the State of Florida. State laws compel financial institutions and holders of property to report unclaimed assets to the state when those assets go unclaimed for the applicable statutory time period, usually five years. The unclaimed assets are then turned over to the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Unclaimed Property which acts as a custodian of the assets until such time as they are claimed by a rightful owner.
If you believe you may be entitled to an unclaimed inheritance, you can easily search the Florida “Treasure Hunt” website. You can also check for an unclaimed inheritance in another state by navigating to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website where you will find information and links to searchable databases in all 50 states.
Contact Coral Gables Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE webinar. If you have additional questions or concerns about what happens to an inheritance if no one claims it, contact the experienced Coral Gables probate attorneys at Stivers Law by calling (305) 456-3255 to schedule an appointment.
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