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What happens to the inheritance of an heir that's already died?

If you're the executor of an estate, an already complicated process can become even more complicated when one of the heirs listed in the deceased's will dies before he or she can collect the inheritance.

At that point, two different things may be possible:

1. The original will may have language that makes it clear who is to inherit the deceased heir's portion if the heir died within a certain time frame. Usually, the will will have a time limit, say a month or 45 days, that an heir has to live after the original decedent's passing in order to collect. If the proposed heir doesn't live that long, his or her inheritance reverts to the estate.

If this is the situation, you'll probably have a fairly easy time figuring out what to do as long as no one steps forward and challenges the legality of the instructions under the applicable state laws.

2. The original will won't address the issue at all, only address it in terms of what should happen if the original heir should precede the writer of the will in death, or the heir dies while the estate is still being probated but after the time limit set in the will for reversion.

This is a fairly common situation, since many people don't realize how long the probate process may take -- they assume that a month or 45 days is more than long enough to cover the probate process.

Now, as the executor, you have a significant challenge on your hands. Part of your job is resolving any issues like this that may come up, unless the whole thing blows up in a court battle with various heirs each claiming entitlement to the newly deceased's share.

Most likely, unless reversion applies, the inheritance will become part of the newly deceased's own estate. You may have to do some digging to determine if the deceased heir left a will or died intestate, without one. If he or she died without a will, inheritance is dictated by kinship and the laws of the state in which the deceased heir resided. If he or she did leave a will, you may need to work with the executor of that estate in order to locate the proper beneficiary.

An experienced attorney can provide you with assistance with complex estate issues.

Source: FindLaw, "What Does an Executor Do?," accessed June 16, 2017

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