So You Think You Know Heirs - Promise Law
Estate PlanningProbate & Estate Administration

So You Think You Know Heirs

By 8 Jun, 2016 June 3rd, 2019 No Comments

The untimely death of rock, pop icon Prince is proving to be a primer on what not to do in estate planning and how to create a mess in estate administration.  Of course, the administration begins with turning to his estate planning documents.  None.  Then what’s next: heirs.

Heirs are those people who are related to the decedent by blood (or adoption).  With a multi-million dollar estate at stake and control of Prince’s legacy (and wealth) over time, it is no wonder that people are coming out of the proverbial wood work to assert they are an heir.

The definition of “heir” is controlled by state law and it does not always follow common logic.  For example, if someone dies leaving a spouse of 50 years, children from a prior marriage (who never called or cared about decedent) and children from the 50 year marriage, the heirs are the spouse (1/3) and all children (2/3 among them).  It doesn’t matter how long the marriage, the estrangement of the prior children; the heirs are the heirs, period.  The only way to change the default of heirs receiving an estate is to have a will or a trust.

Family Tree - Heirs

Then ponder this: what if there is no relationship with the deceased person and the alleged heir?  Again, as demonstrated in Prince’s estate, although the statute is clear, identifying who is actually a blood relative and thereby who qualifies as an heir may be time consuming and costly.  Claims of paternity will require the estate remain open for those claims to be tested. Indeed, the judge overseeing Prince’s estate has already ordered collection of Prince’s DNA for future testing.  But DNA is not the only way to prove paternity.  Other evidence may be permitted such as pictures from family events and birthday cards.  Read: you could have separate law suits for each person claiming to be an heir trying to prove their case.

We always think we have more time to do lots of things, including creating an estate plan.  But what if not.  It’s worth it (literally in terms of dollars spent and for peace of mind) to chose beneficiaries with a will rather than leave it to statute.

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