Inheritance Legal Problems Which Can Arise


Inheritance is no simple matter, and in the US in particular, it is made all the more complex by varying federal laws concerning what happens and who is entitled to what. These are just a very few of the many issues one ought to consider when planning. 

Dying Without a Will

Dying without a will is extremely problematic for your descendants. In most states, doing so will mean that your estate will be treated as “intestate”, meaning there is no valid will by which to proceed. In this situation, a court must decide who inherits your property and how much of it goes to whom. In the absence of a valid will, a probate court will need to appoint an administrator who acts also as an executor, someone who can take the estate of the deceased. Some states, for example, give a surviving spouse, or, in some cases, a domestic partner priority when choosing such an administrator, which can be complicated if there is no such person, or if such a person was estranged from the deceased. For these and many other reasons, it is best, the older one gets, and/or if one has children especially, to contact a financial advisor to assist in such matters before anything unfortunate happens. 

Elder Law 

Similarly, there will inevitably, as we age, be an increased risk of injury or illness leading to ongoing medical costs, particularly if one requires assisted living daily. Elder Law is planning for these complex healthcare needs. In states like New Jersey, for example, there are federal-state programs, like Medicaid, designed to cover families in the event of such eventualities, something which would be of benefit, for example, for those searching for ‘assisted living Princeton NJ’

Inheritance Tax

In the United States, this is also called estate tax and is a federal tax on the transfer of the estate following a person’s death, either transferred by a legal will or according to state law in intestacy. Inheritance tax covers a broad range of categories and issues, such as the “gross estate”, deductions, tentative tax, credits against tax, portability, filing returns and payments, tax exemptions and tax rates, expat status, and US citizenship, to name but a few. Such complexities, again, should be a strong indicator to contact a financial advisor when writing your will. 

The Slayer Rule

This one really ought not to need saying, but is nonetheless interesting to explore. In criminal law, the slayer rule renders inheritance of all property null and void in the eventuality of death as a result of murder on behalf of the inheritor. Although a criminal conviction, and thus a prison sentence, must in court be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, this rule nevertheless applies in civil law also, whereby the murder need only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning on the balance of probability. This can prove interesting in rare cases where the guilt of the accused is in question, where a criminal court fails to successfully prosecute, but the accused nevertheless forfeits inheritance. As a rule, therefore, forgetting that it is best not to murder one’s relatives to claim an early inheritance, as, forgetting the obvious risk of a life sentence if caught, the accusation alone would likely render successfully inheriting impossible anyway. 

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