How to pursue an inheritance from an estranged relative

Florida residents who are estranged from their family may be interested if a deceased relative left them an inheritance. While an estrangement from a family member like a parent or sibling can happen for any number of reasons, the estrangement doesn't necessarily mean that family has been cut out of the person's will. Individuals do sometimes pass away and leave assets to family members with whom they haven't spoken in years.

The good news is that today's online capabilities have simplified the process of searching for an estranged relative who may be deceased. Online genealogy services can search the records like obituaries and the Social Security Death Master File. Some websites will perform the search for a free trial period while others require a fee.

An individual could also request a verification of death from the vital records offices in the state in which the relative died. That document could confirm the death, although it wouldn't act as a death certificate. Each state has its own rules on when and how a death certificate can be issued. Many states require the certificate requester to have a valid reason, such as being the beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

The distribution of the estranged relative's estate also depends on his or her estate plan. If the individual had a will, the assets would be distributed according to the will's instructions. If there was no will, the estate could be tied up in probate court. An estate planning attorney could help individuals determine whether they have a claim to their relative's estate and provide a recommendation for how to pursue their share.

Source: FOX Business, "How to Know if You are Owed an Inheritance", Dr. Don Taylor, November 20, 2013

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