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I’m Named in the Will. What Do I Do?

Question: My aunt passed away a month ago and my cousin, her daughter, seems to be in charge.  I think my aunt left me some money, but my cousin has not given me any information.  I don’t want to be insensitive and discuss this with my cousin in her time of grief.  However, I would like to know if I really am a beneficiary, and, if so, how much was left to me, and when I can expect to receive my inheritance.  What do I do?

Answer:  This is a great question and a fairly common one.  First of all, be patient.  Settling an estate takes time.  Here are some things you need to know about the process:

1. The first official act that occurs after someone dies is that his/her Will is “admitted” to probate court.  At that time, the court designates an Executor who is responsible for “settling” the estate.  This starts the probate process.  (It should be noted that, often, the Will specifies who the Executor is.  However, if there is no Will, or no Executor was named in the Will, the court will appoint an Administrator.)

2. Within 60 days of  having been appointed, the Executor/Administrator must notify all next of kin and beneficiaries of the Will that the Will has been probated, and that an Executor/Administrator has been appointed (name and contact information included).  Included with this notification will be a copy of the Will or information regarding how to obtain a copy. This is a key step in the process and one that is very important for your purposes.  If you are a beneficiary, this is how you will be officially notified.  And, since you will have access to a copy of the Will, you will know the details pertaining to you.

3.  As for the Executor/Administrator “settling” the estate, this is where your patience needs to kick in!  It can take the Executor/Administrator quite a while to wind up the decedant’s affairs and, often, the services of professionals (such as attorneys and accountants) are required.  Highlights of the Executor/Adminstrator’s “To Do” list include identification, collection, and valuation of the decedent’s assets, management of all estate assets, and payment of all debts and expenses, including all federal and state taxes.  Only after all of these matters have been addressed can the Executor/Administrator proceed to distribute the remaining assets to beneficiaries.  Depending on the size of the estate, this process can take months, or, in many cases, one or more years to complete.

4.  It should be noted that if the beneficiary completed beneficiary designation forms for any Retirement Savings Plans such as 401Ks, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), life insurance policies, and/or bank and brokerage accounts where applicable, these assets will fall outside of the probate process.  The individual institutions where these assets reside will be responsible for distributing the  monies directly to the designated beneficiaries.  However, it may still take several months for beneficiaries to receive their monies.

So, what should you do while the probate process works its way through to completion?  First, stay calm.  And try to maintain a cordial relationship with the Executor/Administrator.  Threats and arguments over your portion of the estate won’t necessarily help you get your inheritance any faster.  In fact, they may delay the process!

While this posting addresses beneficiaries’ issues where a Will is involved, our next post will address beneficiaries’ concerns where no Will exists.

Getting Legal Help

When inheritance issues arise, you may find it helpful to contact an attorney for information and guidance.  Experienced estate planning attorney, Elga Goodman, can assist you in understanding the issues and helping you with the process.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.

So,what should you do while the probate process works its way to completion?  First, stay calm.  Have a cordial relationship with the Administrator is a definite plus.  Threats and arguments over your portion of the estate won’t necessarily help you get your inheritance.  In fact, it may iening to sue is not necessarily going to help expedite your claim to the will.

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