To claim an inheritance, a person must file with the court a document that serves as notice to the court and to the administrator of the estate that the person may be entitled to an inheritance. The name of the document will vary in each jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions call the form a demand for notice. This form contains the name of the person submitting the demand, a statement describing his or her connection to the estate, a mailing address, phone number, and the name of the person who died. After a person files the demand for notice, it obligates the court clerk and the administrator of the estate to send copies of all documents filed with the court to the person who filed the demand.
A person wanting to claim an inheritance must send an endorsed copy of his demand for notice to the administrator of the estate. The term "endorsed" in this case means that the court has placed an official stamp on the demand for notice. The stamp indicates the date that a person filed the document with the court along with the court clerk’s signature. The administrator of an estate is a personal representative or an executor. The person serving as the administrator is obligated to gather the property of the person who died and distribute such property pursuant to a valid will or, when there is no valid will, pursuant to the law.
A person typically can claim an inheritance if he is entitled to inherit through a valid will. If there is no valid will, then a person can claim one through a jurisdiction’s intestate laws. Intestate means that a person died without a valid will. Most jurisdictions will have statutes that establish intestate succession of property. This means that, when a person dies without a valid will, the law will control who has the right to inherit.
People claiming inheritances must act with diligence to protect his rights. Failure to claim an inheritance within a certain time may result in losing an inheritance, because the law is likely to establish certain deadlines for a person to assert his rights. A person would be wise to consult with a probate lawyer to understand the specific laws in his jurisdiction to claim an inheritance. For example, if there is a will that excludes a person from inheriting, the will may not be valid and the probate lawyer might be able to successful challenge the validity of the will.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is entitled to an inheritance?
To be entitled to an inheritance, you must be named as a beneficiary in the deceased’s will or be their legal heir. Legal heirs include their spouse and children.
In the absence of those, other relatives may have a claim—unless they are only related by marriage.
Consulting with a lawyer will provide better insight on whether you're entitled to an inheritance so you don't waste your time or miss out.
How long does claiming an inheritance take?
Depending on how complex the estate is, claiming an inheritance can take a few months or several years.
With a relatively simple estate that has no disputes, it may take only a few months to complete the process. But if the estate is more complex or there are disputes over the assets, the process will take longer.
What documents do I need to claim an inheritance?
In most cases, you will need a copy of the death certificate, the will, any deeds or titles to property, and any other estate-related documents. You may also need to provide valid identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, and proof of address.
Who is responsible for paying inheritance taxes?
Typically, the "executor" is responsible for paying inheritance taxes on behalf of the deceased’s estate.
While this is usually the case, the heirs of the estate may be required to pay individual taxes on their inheritance instead.
Rather than speculating, meeting a lawyer with your specific case is the best way to determine if any taxes are due on the inheritance and who is responsible for paying them.
What happens if I don't claim my inheritance?
If you don't claim your inheritance, the assets may be given to other heirs or beneficiaries. You should move quickly, too, because you may not be able to recover it if it has been legally transferred to someone else.