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How Do I Claim an Inheritance?

By Christopher John
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1005958 — On Dec 29, 2021

How can one look up a will in Mexico or the US?

By Crispety — On May 22, 2011

@Sunny27 -I think that more people should do that. I also think that a revocable living trust is a good idea because it allows the heirs to receive the assets without going to probate court in order to claim the inheritance.

I heard this on a financial show the other day and it is probably the best inheritance advice I have ever heard. The financial advisor said that to set up a revocable living trust it will cost you about $1,500 to $2,000 and this type of trust can be amended throughout your lifetime.

By Sunny27 — On May 20, 2011

@Sunshine31 -I think that the man probably wanted the children to receive the money which is why he never bothered to change it. I think that if there had been a will that stated that the wife should have inherited the money, I wonder what would have happened.

I know that the ex wife would have been gone to court to contest the will. Contesting a will is really a trying thing and in some wills there are stipulations that state that if the will is contested by any party then they forfeit their inheritance.

By sunshine31 — On May 19, 2011

I was watching a television show the other day about a lady whose husband just died. He had a life insurance policy,and she thought she was the rightful heir. However, the man was previously married and had two children and named the ex wife the beneficiary of the life insurance policy.

Both women were arguing about the life insurance money, but a lawyer on the show stated that if the beneficiary was listed as the ex wife then the money goes to the ex wife. If he wanted a different outcome he should have changed it when he was alive.

I know that in my state if the beneficiary designation is blank and the person with the life insurance is married the money automatically gets awarded to the spouse.

They really were not able get into contesting a will because there was no will available.

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