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The Reluctant Heir

Marlene CooperYou are probably wondering what a "reluctant heir" is. I had never given any thought to the possible existence of such a person either until I had to deal with an heir that would not receive his inheritance. I know what you are thinking -- no one will ever have to refer to you as a reluctant heir, and for that matter, me neither.

I would not be writing this article if I hadn't experienced this very uncommon situation myself in one of my probate cases. A woman passed away leaving a son and a daughter as her heirs. Since the woman didn't have a will, the law dictates that her estate be divided equally between the son and daughter. When the estate was settled, I sent a six figure check to the son as his portion of the estate. To my surprise, he mailed the check back to me. After several unanswered letters, I finally sent a courier to his house to deliver the check in person. The son told the courier that he didn't want any part of his mother's estate and that he doesn't want to be bothered again about the matter.Apparently he had been estranged from his mother for many years and, for whatever reason, would not accept money from her estate.

The law provides that where distribution to a beneficiary cannot be made, the money must be deposited with the State of California. If the beneficiary's whereabouts is unknown and the money is not claimed by the beneficiary within five years, the money can be claimed by the next of kin. However, where the beneficiary's whereabouts are known but the beneficiary simply refuses to accept the money, there is no provision allowing the next of kin to claim the money. After five years the money becomes property of the State. What an unfortunate quirk in the law!

If you are planning to give an inheritance to someone you have not spoken with for several years or to someone with whom you have a bad relationship, perhaps you should reconsider, or at least plan carefully so that the State doesn't wind up with your money. The best way to plan for this possibility is to simply have your living trust or will prepared and provide a contingent plan that gives the inheritance to someone else if the "reluctant heir" doesn't accept it. That way you can keep your hard earned money from the State of California unclaimed property fund.

© 2009 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.

(Marlene S. Cooper is a native of Pasadena, a graduate of UCLA, and has been an attorney for over 30 years. Her practice is focused entirely on estate planning and probate. You may obtain further information on estate planning and probate at www.marlenecooperlaw.com. You may also contact Attorney Cooper directly at (626) 791-7530, or by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The information in this article is of a general nature and not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this article).


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