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What Happens If An Heir Hunter Or “Long Lost” Relative Claims A Share Of A Probate Estate?

Trusts

Many people fail to make a will before they die. One common reason is the belief that since state law gives their estate to their next of kin anyways, a will is simply unnecessary. And in many cases that is true.

But then you come across a situation where a previously unknown or “long lost” relative appears and demands a share of a deceased person’s estate. In some cases, this relative hired a probate genealogist or “heir hunter” to try and establish their connection to the decedent. If the estate refuses to acknowledge this putative heir’s claim, the result can be months, even years, of litigation to sort things out.

Inheritance in an Intestate Estate

To understand how something like this could happen, we first need to explain how intestacy law works. In Florida, a probate estate is either testate or intestate. Testate means the decedent left a will. Conversely, an intestate estate means there is no will.

In the case of an intestate estate, Florida law dictates who will inherit the estate’s property after certain debts and administrative expenses are paid. Intestate succession normally looks to the next of kin.

Right away, you can see an opportunity. The intestacy law does not distinguish between children born in or out of wedlock. So if the decedent had a long-lost child from a prior relationship, that child would be entitled to claim a share of the estate. This could require a separate paternity determination by the court if the decedent was the putative father but had not acknowledged the child during their lifetime. (One side not–if a child was legally given up for adoption, they have no right to inherit from the estate of the biological parent who severed ties.)

If the decedent had no spouse or lineal descendants, then the intestacy law looks for the next closest relations, such as parents followed by siblings. Again, when it comes to siblings an unknown or long lost half-brother or half-sister could have a valid claim to a share of the estate. The law does not care how close–or estranged–this relative might have been from the decedent. All they need to prove is they were a blood relation.

Need Help with a No Will Estate?

There are also cases where the administrator of a probate estate may need to go searching for heirs themselves. Consider a scenario where a person dies having never married or had children and there are no immediate family members still alive. It may be necessary to go looking for distant cousins simply to find someone who is legally entitled to inherit the estate.

So if you are involved in any scenario like the ones described above, it is important you seek out skilled legal advice from a Pompano Beach no will lawyer who has experience in dealing with intestate estates. Contact attorney Mark R. Manceri today to schedule a consultation.

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