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Recluse dies without will; lone cousin inherits millions

When someone dies, that person may leave behind assets for family and friends. If the deceased does not leave behind specific instructions for distributing those assets, he or she has no control over where the assets go. Planning ahead by writing a last will and testament is the best way to ensure assets end up where you intend them to go. Orlando readers may find that the story of a reclusive man provides a good example of the need for estate planning.

The 69-year-old man had lived in the same modest house in another state since the 1960s and kept to himself. Neighbors rarely saw him and did not know he had died until his body was discovered this past June inside his home, about a month after he had died.

Authorities sent a work crew to clean the Nevada man's house. Workers were extremely surprised to find boxes and boxes of gold coins in the man's garage. The coins, which come from all over the world are valued at more than $7.4 million. No one has found any information about where the deceased man worked or how he earned a living, but the cleaning crew did find records of gold coin purchases dating as far back as 1964.

Authorities never discovered a last will and testament for the deceased man, so they had no way of knowing how he wished his assets to be disposed. After searching various records and newspaper clippings regarding the man's father's death in the early 1960s, however, officials discovered the deceased man had a sole surviving relative. The first cousin, a substitute teacher who lives in California, was understandably surprised to learn she is heir to a fortune.

This Nevada man's story made news because of the high value of his estate, but many people with smaller fortunes pass away without leaving instructions for the distribution of assets. Courts or judges may have to track down heirs, name beneficiaries or decide how a person's belongings will be divided. It is much easier for anyone with assets to create a will to define exactly how property and other assets will be divided after death.

Source: WZVN-TV, "Teacher sole heir of $7.4M gold coin fortune," Scott Sonner, AP, Dec. 18, 2012

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