What do You do if Your Loved One Died Without a Will?

If you believe you are a legal heir to someone’s estate, but that person has died without estate planning documents such as a will, you might not know what steps to take to claim your inheritance. The requirements for receiving assets or money that are left to you in such an estate depend on the laws of the state, whether there are other potential heirs and whether any assets are linked to beneficiary designations.

When someone dies without leaving a will or other estate documents, then the person is considered to have died intestate. Basically, that’s just a term for “without a will,” and intestacy estates are probated under the general laws of the state in question. Intestacy laws usually ensure that primary heirs, such as surviving spouses or children of the deceased, receive an inheritance under the estate. Depending on the situation, other family members such as step-children, grandchildren and siblings might also inherit something from an intestate process — especially if no other closer heirs are found.

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What is a Fiduciary Relationship?

A fiduciary relationship exists when one person in a relationship has a legal obligation associated with the management of another person’s assets or money. An accountant, for example, has a fiduciary responsibility to his or her clients. The law expects that an accountant will not purposely make poor decisions regarding a client’s assets and will work with due diligence and professional skill to protect or grow those assets as desired by the client.

If you are involved in a person’s estate, then you might be involved in a fiduciary relationship. If you have been asked to be the executor of a person’s will, then you have a fiduciary responsibility to the estate. While genuinely innocent mistakes do happen, the law expects you to make an honest attempt to use the resources at your disposal to handle the estate. That means following the estate plan and will to distribute assets as the decedent desired.

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