So You’ve Inherited Those Things You Never Wanted…

So You've Inherited Those Things You Never Wanted... by Tom Sciacca{Read in 5 minutes} When I was a little kid, my favorite board game was The Game of Life. In fact, that game is probably part of the reason I am a Trusts and Estates attorney today. In The Game of Life, a person drives their little car around the board, landing on things which are either good or bad life events. One space that I particularly remember read, “Your uncle has left you a skunk farm. Pay $20,000 to get rid of it.” For whatever reason, that stuck with me all of these years.

Why do I bring this up here? Because every now and then my clients ask what to do with skunk farms they inherit. No, I’m not talking about literal skunk farms (although, if you do have a skunk farm, please retain me to write your Will, just so I can feel professionally fulfilled). I’m talking about anything undesirable that one might receive as a bequest from an Estate.

In general, these can fall into one of three categories:

First, undesirable things. This can be anything from your great-aunt’s creepy china doll collection, to your Uncle Morris’ ashes, to the 1986 Encyclopedia Britannica. What are some other things that I’ve seen bequeathed in Wills that beneficiaries don’t actually want? Usually anything involving records or paperwork, broken musical instruments, or diaries of people who considered themselves famous (overestimated their public appeal). Sometimes, people have a pet that they love very much, but no one else in the family loves it because the pet is just, to use the legal word, “nasty.”

Are you required to accept these items? The answer is NO! No beneficiary has to accept a proverbial skunk farm unless they absolutely want to take it. It is important that a beneficiary who does not want these items communicate that to the Executor, so that the Executor can make arrangements for other people to take the item (or for it to be otherwise disposed of).

If the item has some value, the beneficiary may wish to consider signing a Renunciation and Disclaimer form whereby the beneficiary formally states that they do not want the item(s) in question, and that the Executor is legally allowed to not distribute them. Very often, the Executor’s attorneys will prepare this form on behalf of the beneficiaries. Of course, if the item is truly valuable, the beneficiary might wish to simply accept it and then donate it to a charitable organization and earn a potentially valuable income tax deduction.

The second category is undesirable people. Maybe you don’t want the responsibility for other people that the deceased has tried to foist upon you in their Will. Maybe you don’t want to be the Executor, because all of the beneficiaries hate each other (or you) and you know that you will just wind up in the middle of a contentious probate litigation staring down a jury who will be looking at you like you have six heads.

Or, perhaps you’ve been nominated as a trustee for children who you don’t particularly like because they’re brats, or for your ne’er-do-well sibling, who the deceased created a trust for and will now be asking you for distributions for the remainder of your sane life. Much like the items described above, you do not need to accept appointment as an Executor, Trustee, or Guardian. Again, it’s just a simple form that needs to be filled out and filed with the Court. If you have an appointment that you are not thrilled with, let your attorney know and he or she can advise you on the appropriate way to handle it. Never take it on out of a sense of obligation to the deceased. There is that saying about how the road to hell is paved.

Third is undesirable debt. You don’t need to take on the decedent’s debt. As I explained in this article here, in general, beneficiaries are not responsible for the debts of a deceased.

In conclusion, it’s important to note that, if you are a beneficiary of undesirable items or if you’ve been given an undesirable job, you can pick and choose what you want and don’t want. For example, if my friend leaves me $100,000 and the stuffed remains of her beloved cat Chester, I can keep the cash and renounce my rights to receive the stuffed Chester — or, perhaps if I’m really bizarre, maybe I want the stuffed Chester, but not the cash. The point is that you can pick and leave what you would like.

The greater, overarching point is that if a loved one dies, you should seek legal advice sooner rather than later. Your ability to do so is generally limited to nine months after the death. For more information, contact me here.
Thomas Sciacca

 

Thomas Sciacca

www.sciaccalaw.com
Tom@SciaccaLaw.com
(212) 495-0317