Harville-Stein Law Offices, LLC


FOLEY, AL 36535
Phone: 251.979.6641




Finding A "Few" Heirs -- A Case Study

By Dean D. Stein, CMA

We had the opportunity to work on an interesting case that involved an estate where only the heirs on the maternal side of the family were known, all being out-of-state. The call came from a neighboring Southern state, when a distant aunt of theirs had died in Jefferson County, Alabama. She left no will, as unfortunately, she did not sign it before she died. She had an old house in an area of homes more difficult to sell, during the Great Recession. She had old furnishings that were not worth much, but she did leave some significant funds in a bank account. We served as the administrator of her estate and as the attorney upon the nomination of one of the heirs, as permitted under Alabama law. We gathered all the assets. While we managed the estate, individuals broke into the house and ripped out all the copper plumbing, flooding the house and creating much damage, as well as a big mess. We filed the insurance claim, contracted to make the necessary repairs, and, after all repairs had been made, had insurance proceeds remaining. The remaining insurance proceeds went into the estate account for the benefit of all the heirs. Under Alabama law, when there is no surviving spouse of the decedent, children of the decedent, parents or grandparents of the decedent, then the maternal side gets one-half and the paternal side gets one-half. To be on either side, you must have descended from a common grandparent of the decedent. We had no information about the paternal side, and neither did the maternal side. Armed with just some relatives names from a graveyard near where the deceased person originally lived, we were able to hire a genealogist, who found all the next-of-kin on the paternal side! The estate ended up having some 29 heirs, and each got every penny of what they were entitled. Most did not even know the relative who had died. As the Administrator of the estate, it was our solemn obligation to make sure every heir who could be identified was identified. As you can imagine, when a call came to these heirs, living all over the country, or receiving a letter from us, saying they had an inheritance coming from a deceased relative they did not even know in Alabama, many thought it was some scam. However, with a little more information and after discussion with us, they came to understand we had contacted them on a bona fide matter. Had the decedent completed her Will, none of this would have taken place, as we presume she would have only left to the family she knew and who had stayed in contact with her, showing us again, the importance of having a properly drafted and signed Will. Our job, however, was to follow Alabama law on intestate succession, and we did that with all due effort, as I think those 29 heirs would agree.

This article is generally based on Alabama law, the law of your state can vary widely. This is not intended to constitute, nor should be taken by you as legal advice and is not intended and does not create an attorney/client relationship.

Dean Stein, CMA, is an attorney who has a Masters degree in business and is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA).


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