What To Do When A Relative Dies Without A Last Will

By Vanessa B

Writing down the last will and testament is a dreaded activity for the vast majority of people. This is the reason why so many people pass away without giving their property to their preferred heirs. Unfortunately, these kinds of situations are usually related to having to go through a long, strenuous process of probate, during which a court determines who should get what portions of the deceased person’s estate. 

Should you find yourself in a situation where you believe you deserve to inherit the property of a family member who has died without a will, you’ll need to prepare yourself for that process. Keep in mind that if you do not take care of it, all the property will go on probate sale – everything you need to know to make this procedure easier has been mentioned below.

How to Prove You Are the Next of Kin

There are a number of different ways to prove that you are the next of kin. Whether or not any of the following methods will work is dependent on the specific legal case in question.

Family Papers

If there is family paperwork, such as a birth certificate or a marriage certificate, then this can be used to prove your relationship with the deceased person. However, if there is no such documentation, then you may be able to get it from other people who have seen you and your close, one together.

Witness Testimony

A witness can testify under oath that they saw you and your relative together on a regular basis. But if several witnesses can testify in court under oath that they saw you two together on a regular basis, then this can actually increase your chances of inheriting property from your relative.

Visitation Records

If you can show through visitation records that you have been visiting a loved one regularly in a nursing home, then this can work to your advantage in court. For example, if you were visiting a parent or grandparent on a weekly basis at a nursing home, then this can count towards proving your familial relationship with that person. Of course, if there are no such records available, then you’ll need to rely on witness testimony instead.

DNA Testing

If there are no physical documents to prove your relationship with the deceased person, then you may want to consider getting a DNA test done instead. This can cost anywhere from $150-$300 depending on what kind of service you decide to use. You should do your research beforehand to find the best DNA testing service for your specific needs.

Gathering Written Testimony From Witnesses

Once you’ve proven that you are next of kin, you’ll want to gather testimony from witnesses who can confirm your family relationship with the deceased person. The type of testimony you get from these witnesses will make a difference in how much money or property you are able to inherit from the deceased person.

For example, if you’re the partner of the deceased person, then having one witness testify that they saw you two together will be enough to prove your relationship. However, if there are several different witnesses who can confirm seeing you two together, then this will increase your chances of successfully inheriting property from your partner when their estate is divided up.

If you’re an heir, then having several witnesses testify under oath that they saw you two together on a frequent basis will be more beneficial than having one witness testify that they saw you two together once or twice. In short, having multiple independent witnesses is preferable.

Collecting Written Testimony From Family Members

These are not the only witnesses who should be consulted during this process. You should also have your family members testify as well. If there are multiple siblings in your family who were alive when your relative passed away, then each one of them should testify under oath that they saw your relative with you on a regular basis. This serves as another level of confirmation for your right to inherit everything from your relative.

Collecting Financial Documents

You’ll also want to collect as many financial documents as possible from your relatives. Having evidence that your relative provided for you on a regular basis will be beneficial to your case. For example, if your relative left substantial sums of money in their checking account for years on end and never used it for themselves (but instead always used it for you), then this will help prove your case. 

However, if there is no such evidence, then you may be able to show that your relative paid for certain expenses for you out of pocket. Keep in mind that just because such payments were made doesn’t mean that they will count towards your inheritance. This depends on what was said and done by both parties at the time those payments were made.

Other important documents for inheritance purposes include:

  • Tax returns for both the deceased person and you
  • Bank statements for both the deceased person and you
  • Paycheck stubs from both the deceased person and you
  • Income statements for both the deceased person and you
  • Property deeds
  • Real estate documents

Evidence of property ownership will be beneficial in determining how much property you are entitled to as part of your inheritance. For example, if the deceased person left a large amount of real estate behind, then this is beneficial for your case because it’s valuable property. 

On the other hand, if your relative owned very little real estate, then this can work against your case because there isn’t much valuable property to be passed on to you. Keep in mind that property and finances are not the only factors that will influence your decision in court. Your legal standing as next of kin will also play a role in whether or not you are successful in your claim for inheriting property from the deceased person.

Conclusion

There are a lot of different ways to prove your relationship with a deceased person. The type of proof you present in court will depend on the type of case you have. For example, if there are no documents available to support your claim of familial connection, then DNA testing may be the best way for you to prove it instead. Or, if there are many witnesses who can testify about how often they saw you two together, then that’s a good way to go as well. All of those steps will bring you closer to the probate sale and additional income.

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