When a family member or loved one passes away, a period of grieving typically follows. Although the legalities of your loved one’s death may not be at the forefront of your mind during the grieving period, you may eventually focus on the fact that you were left an inheritance. How do you get the inheritance left to you though? What steps do you need to take? Who is responsible for giving you your inheritance? To try and answer some of these questions, the Indianapolis probate attorneys at Frank & Kraft discuss typical steps required to access the inheritance left to you.
What You Need to Know about Probate
When someone dies, that person leaves behind money, property, and other assets that make up their legal “estate.” If the decedent (person who died) left behind an estate plan, the documents and terms of that plan will largely dictate what happens to the assets in the estate. If the decedent made you a gift in that estate plan, you are a beneficiary of the estate. If the decedent died intestate, meaning he/she did not leave behind a Will, trust, or other estate planning documents, then the estate assets will go to the decedent’s legal heirs according to the State of Indiana’s intestate succession laws. Either way, the distribution of estate assets happens during the legal process referred to as “probate.”
Probate serves several important interrelated purposes. Ultimately, probate ensures that beneficiaries and/or heirs of an estate receive their inheritances; however, before that can happen, there are a few other steps in the probate process. The person named as the Executor of the decedent’s Will (if applicable) or someone appointed by the court oversees the probate process and is referred to as the personal representative of the estate. This person is responsible for identifying and locating the decedent’s assets, figuring out what those assets are worth, and protecting them throughout the probate of the estate. Creditors of the estate are also entitled to notification and given the chance to file a claim against the estate. Only after all approved claims have been paid can beneficiaries and/or heirs receive their inheritances.
How You Access Your Inheritance Depends on Several Factors
The personal representative of the estate is required to notify beneficiaries and heirs that the estate is in probate. Knowing that you have inherited money or other assets is not the same as accessing that inheritance. How you access your inheritance depends in large part on the legal mechanism used to gift you the inheritance. If you were gifted an inheritance in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, you will typically need to wait until the end of probate before the personal representative is allowed to distribute estate assets. If your inheritance was left to you through a trust agreement, however, the assets can be distributed shortly after the decedent’s death because trust assets do not go through probate. The terms found in the trust agreement will ultimately determine when and how you access your inheritance. If you are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, the proceeds can also be distributed immediately after the death of the insured. Likewise, if you are named as the beneficiary on a “payable on death” account, you immediately become the legal owner of the assets held in the account upon the death of the owner (the decedent). Finally, if you are still a minor at the time you inherit assets, an adult must legally take possession of the assets until you are an adult.
As you can see, the pathway required to access your inheritance depends largely on how the inheritance is legally passed down to you. The best way to find out exactly how to access an inheritance left to you is to consult with an experienced probate attorney.
Contact Indianapolis Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about how to access your inheritance, contact the experienced Indianapolis probate attorneys at Frank & Kraft by calling (317) 684-1100 to schedule an appointment.