Heir apparent refers to lineal relatives of a person who has died. When decedent estates undergo the probate process, heir apparent is typically the recipient of inheritance property. Decedents can bequeath property within their last will and testament. If no Will exists, property automatically transfers to rightful heirs.
The most common heir apparent is the surviving spouse or children born to the decedent. When decedents do not have a spouse or children, the next closest relative becomes the heir apparent. This could be the decedent’s parents, siblings, or relatives such as aunts, uncles, and cousins.
If decedents have an adult child who has passed away, but had children of their own, the grandchildren would be designated as heir apparent. When no direct lineage heirs exist, the closet living relative will be in line to inherit estate assets. If no living relatives exist, inheritance property can be transferred to the state where it is held in escheat. Once the escheat dormancy period expires, inheritance property can be sold through public auction.
Decedents can disinherit direct lineage heirs by including a disinheritance clause within their last Will. Disinherited heirs still have the right to contest the Will, but it is less likely when decedents include the reason for their decision within the Will.
The last Will is an important element of probate and trusts. Probate is required when estates are not protected by a trust. Trusts are typically reserved for estates valued over $100,000. The last will and testament is transferred to the trust and kept private, whereas the Will is matter of public record for probate estates.
Certain types of property can avoid probate if decedents establish beneficiaries prior to death. These can include life insurance proceeds, bank accounts, investment portfolios, and retirement accounts. Titled property can be exempt from probate as well, but property owners should consult with a probate lawyer to ensure proper protocol is followed.
Beneficiaries of the aforementioned property must file specific documents before funds can be distributed. Most states require estate administrators to obtain date-of-death values and submit forms to the county tax assessor. As long as decedents are current on taxes, the distribution process can occur quickly. If taxes are owed, the estate must pay taxes in full before distribution can occur.
Transferring inheritance assets to a trust eliminates the time-consuming probate process and expedites estate settlement. When trusts are established, individuals are required to execute a last will and provide directives for property distribution.
The Will allows decedents to specify which inheritance gifts each heir apparent will receive. Gifts fall into one of two categories including specific or general. Specific gifts encompass items such as family heirlooms, valuable jewelry, artwork or collectibles. General gifts encompass personal belongings such as household furnishings, appliances, and electronics.
Everyone aged 18 and older should engage in estate planning strategies. Some estates can be protected by a simple Will, while others require the ironclad protection of a trust. Many estate planners and probate lawyers offer complimentary consultations to help individuals determine which strategies are best suited for their needs.
One of the most trusted sources regarding wills and probate information is the American Bar Association website at abanet.org. Visitors can research state probate laws; learn how to execute a Will, establish a trust, and protect inheritance property; and locate probate lawyers.
American Bar Association – Real Property Trust and Estate Law