When a family member dies and you suspect there is an inheritance possibly due to you, you may have to follow certain steps to assure the validity and legitimacy of your claim.
Whether you are notified of the fact that you may be in line to inherit money, or you become aware of a proceeding where you may have a legitimate interest in an estate, there are certain procedures to follow in order to actually receive the money. You must prove you are an heir.
- If a long-lost family member dies, with assets for distribution, an estate proceeding commences. Courts will require the executor to cite known heirs. If heirs are unknown, the executor must publish a notification in a newspaper and appoint a guardian in the proceeding to protect the interests of the unknown heirs.
- If you are certain – or even hoping – that you are an heir, you will need to prove your kinship and where you stand in the line of heirs (preferably at the head). To do this, you will need to prove death records of other family members, affidavits from people other than a blood relative who know you and your family, and possibly evidence of hereditary records.
- The court will require significant effort on your part. Even with today’s technology and websites devoted to finding ancestors and municipal websites where you can search applications for death records or certificates, it can take weeks or months for you to collect the data necessary to show the court you have done your due diligence. You need to validate your efforts to find all the heirs and prove they are not alive or entitled to receive money, but you are.
- This evidence then has to be produced in court in a systematic way, supported by testimony of witnesses. Proving your inheritance is one thing, but you may also have to convince the court there is little chance that someone else may step forward ahead of you.
- Coming into an inheritance may not seem as simple (and as pleasant) as one might suppose. You need to have an understanding of the will (if there is one), the legal terms relating to deceased estates, all your own updated and relevant legal documents, and all the documents required to verify your application.
The value of a will
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, they say. But a recently updated will in your favour and possession is your first key to ensuring you will receive an inheritance stated therein. The will specifies who will receive what. To distribute everything evenly, one can simply list beneficiaries. If certain items are to be left to certain people, this has to be itemised in the will.
For the inheritance process to begin, a will must be submitted to a Master of the High Court, where an executor will be authorised to oversee the legal transfer of assets to the beneficiaries. Before the transfer, the executor will settle any of the deceased’s remaining debts.
The will needs to be validated by way of a court hearing. Notice of the court hearing will be distributed to all the inheritors listed in the decedent’s will. This hearing will also give anyone concerned the opportunity to make objections regarding the process.
Along with the will, you will have to present the death certificate. Once the will has been validated, you may be requested to sign an affidavit that you are who you claim to be.
If there isn’t a will, things become complicated. The court must determine the wishes of the deceased as best it can. There will have to be an investigation to see if the deceased named any beneficiaries on stocks, bank accounts, brokerage accounts and retirement plans. Real estate, jewellery, heirlooms and other property can be more difficult to allocate.
This process can take months or years to settle.
The value of the Executor
The executor can be appointed by the decedent or the court. The first task of the executor is to find and take possession of the assets left by the deceased; this is a protective measure. If there are assets that have not been proclaimed or made known by the deceased, it is the executor’s job to track these assets by reviewing documentation such as tax returns and insurance policies, as well as bank accounts and investment accounts.
The executor must then petition the court for permission to distribute these assets as per instructions in the will, or as per the claimant process should there be no will. This is when you must make sure your claim can be validated.
Check your policies, check your life
Verifi is an online tool that provides you with an immediate and up-to-date overview of all your life insurance and investment policies by sourcing information from all the major life insurance companies – and presenting the information in a comprehensive report.
With Verifi you are able, for no charge, to access information on all your life and investment policies at a glance. You are able to check the types of policies you have, the names of the insurance companies providing the cover, the nature and extent of the insurance cover provided – and other vitally important information such as the details on your policies being correct.
To find out more, please visit: www.verifi.co.za