While finding out someone left you money after their death sounds like the plot of a movie, this is something that really happens. A will and testament is a private document. It isn’t until one dies that this document is available to the public, including friends and family. In the meantime, the only way to know if you’re an heir or beneficiary is to ask.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Is Money Left Unclaimed?
- Finding Money in a Will
- Money From an Insurance Policy
- Find Unclaimed Funds
- Claims to Liquid Cash
- Uncover Pension or Other Death Benefits
However, what happens if a family member passes on without talking to you about his or her will? How do you find out if they left you money? There are more ways to leave money to a beneficiary after you pass than just in your will alone. In this guide, we’ll review how to find out if someone left you money when they died.
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Why Is Money Left Unclaimed?
First, let’s talk about how money goes unclaimed. Not many people understand this process. A lot of this misconception is from the film industry. On the big screen, it all seems so easy. Someone comes knocking at the door to let the estranged relative know they’re the sole heir of a considerable fortune. This picture-perfect fairytale is just that—not usually real life.
While it’s true executors and even state governments go to lengths to return funds and assets to family members, it’s not always easy. A trust or will is the easiest way to name your beneficiaries, but many people go without a will or pass away unexpectedly.
Estates go unclaimed for a variety of reasons:
- A will’s beneficiary passed away or did not accept the inheritance at the time.
- The deceased did not have their own will or trust (called dying “intestate”).
- Not all assets are in the will.
In 2013 alone, an estimated 60 million dollars was never claimed by Americans. If you think you might have an inheritance that needs claiming, take action. There are many resources available to help you, so don’t leave money on the table.
Finding Money in a Will
The most common way money to receive money after a loved one passes is through a will. This is also the easiest way to receive the money since you usually won’t need to deal with any courts or legal process. If you’re named a beneficiary in someone’s will, the executor of their estate or an estate attorney contacts you soon after the passing.
If you are not contacted but feel you might be a beneficiary, you still have options. To find out if you received money in a will, you’ll need to first locate the court with probate jurisdiction over your relative’s will.
Probate is simply the legal process of distributing one’s estate. In the case of probate court, a judge and other qualified individuals will decide who receives what in the case of a contested will or no will. Start by contacting this court to ask whether or not a probate is pending. You can ask to see your relative’s probate file if there is a pending action.
When you receive the will, check if you’re listed as a beneficiary. If you are, your next step is to contact the executor. This is usually a family member, but it can also be an attorney. Together, verify all information and take any next steps to receive payment.
Money From an Insurance Policy
Life insurance policies require the individual to choose their beneficiaries should they pass away. The life insurance provider will then pay out these beneficiaries if a claim is filed. The best way to know whether you’re a beneficiary on a policy is to ask your friends and relatives directly. Of course, this isn’t always possible if they pass away unexpectedly.
How do you find out if you’re an insurance beneficiary? The best way is to secure a copy of the insurance policy itself. This is likely to be with your loved one’s estate planning documents. If your loved one lost their life insurance policy, contact the insurance provider directly. If the policy is through an employer-sponsored insurance program, they will know which company your relative used. Otherwise, check your loved one’s financial records to determine the insurance provider.
Once you’ve determined the provider, file a claim. You’ll need to supply the death certificate and a few other crucial details about the policy. From there, anyone listed as a beneficiary receives the death benefit.
Find Unclaimed Funds
If your loved one did not have a will and testament or a formal estate plan, you might wonder what happens to their funds. Each asset list for a will includes a long list of things like:
- Bank accounts
- Safe deposit boxes
- Old paychecks
- And more
Millions of dollars go unclaimed each year when those who pass don’t have a will and testament. Think of these unclaimed funds like the lost and found. At this point, they’re managed by the individual state governments. If nobody comes forward to claim this property or money as “found,” it sits in the government coffers.
State governments have a process for connecting these unclaimed funds with heirs of the deceased. They do this through newspaper ad listings, radio ads, and so on. If you notice the name of a family member in one of these state-sponsored ads, contact your local unclaimed property division to see if you’re eligible for a claim.
Even if you don’t see a name in an ad, there are options. Start by creating a list of the names you’re looking into as well as the states they lived in. From there, contact the treasury department for each state to see if they have any assets belonging to these relatives. Claiming these funds is easier than you think. Depending on the state, you might only need to prove your relationship to the individual.
Note that there is no statute of limitations on unclaimed property. Even if your loved one passed years ago, you can still make a claim at any point. It never hurts to ask! Who knows what money might be up for grabs?
Claims to Liquid Cash
Liquid cash is any type of asset that’s easily converted to cash. You might have also heard these called liquid assets. A liquid asset can be a number of things like:
- Cash in a bank account
- Stocks and marketable securities
- Mutual funds
- Money-market funds
A non-liquid asset is anything that takes longer to turn into cash, like a real estate investment. You might think liquid cash is easy to claim after the passing of a loved one, but it’s still not that simple.
First, any liquid cash a person possesses at their time of death goes towards debts. If the deceased had unpaid bills, a mortgage, or any other debts, liquid cash will pay these completely, if possible. If there isn’t enough liquid cash to pay these debts, other types of assets are put towards these accounts.
If you share an asset jointly with your relative, the good news is you have full claim to it. If you’re the beneficiary on a relative’s will, this cash might be “payable-on-death” (POD). All this means is that you don’t need to go through the formal probate process to receive your claim.
To know whether you’re named a beneficiary for any liquid cash, you’ll need to contact the will’s executor. If there is no will, all claims to liquid assets are through probate court.
Uncover Pension or Other Death Benefits
Finally, there are many pension and government survivor programs that include a payout of benefits. When someone dies, their immediate relatives or beneficiaries have access to their pension. While these have limitations based on the specific pension, this money often goes unclaimed.
Pensions are not included within your estate according to new laws. Most workplace and private pension programs have death benefits, and these need to be contacted directly. In most cases, if a loved one has not accessed their pension before death, it is passed on tax-free to beneficiaries. If the loved one accessed their pension, these benefits are taxable.
Family members typically have 2 years to claim pension benefits. To learn whether your relative qualifies, search the government pension database.
Another common death benefit is Social Security. There are a variety of survivor benefits for Social Security, including a lump-sum death payment, parent’s benefits, or widow’s benefits. Again, these need to be accessed quickly after the death of a relative. To learn if you’re eligible, review the Social Security guidelines.
Are You a Beneficiary?
It’s hard to think about money after the passing of a loved one. If you don’t immediately take action, however, it becomes challenging to keep track of what you’re owed. You might be eligible for funds from your loved one’s estate or other benefits.
Find out if someone left you money with these tips above. With so much money unclaimed every year, take advantage of these opportunities. Your relative’s money should go to someone they love and trust even if they didn’t have a formal will in place.
- Hickens, Melanie. “58 Billion Unclaimed: Is Some of It Yours?” CNN Money. 27 January 2013. Money.cnn.com.