Berman & Asbel, LLP

Surprised woman learns she is heir to multimillion dollar fortune

As we have discussed in this blog in the past, not everyone prepares a will. This is particularly surprising among elderly individuals who control a great number of assets, as one would assume that they would have particular plans for their wealth after they passed on.

Still, every now and then, a story emerges of an extremely wealthy individual who dies without an estate plan. When a person passes on without preparing a will, the state's intestacy laws take effect, dictating which parties will receive the assets of the deceased. Generally, assets are given to a spouse or child, but when the deceased does not any immediate family, the matter gets more complicated. Ultimately, an heir must be found; this can lead to a surprising windfall for a distant relation.

This was the apparently the case for one California substitute teacher, who learned she was the sole heir and recipient of her estranged cousin's $7 million fortune.

The deceased, a 69-year-old Nevada man, apparently told no one of his vast fortune, most of which he converted to gold coins and hid throughout his home. Records show he lived on just $500 per month, which he withdrew from a six-figure investment account.

When the man died, there was no clear heir to his fortune. A genealogical analysis revealed that the California woman was his cousin. She will now receive the entire fortune, minus taxes and processing fees.

This case shows how state intestacy laws can work in surprising and unexpected ways. It seems unlikely that this man would have desired his fortune to go to his rarely-seen cousin, but in the absence of a will, he had no control over his fortune.

It may seem like an uncomfortable task to plan for the future, but with the proper assistance, the process can be done quickly and easily. Once a will is written, people can rest easily, knowing that their wishes will be carried out in the future.

Source: Associated Press, "Substitute teacher becomes heir to gold fortune," Dec. 14, 2012

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