It is a common TV and fiction fantasy: your life changes in the blink of an eye when you discover that you've inherited a fortune from an unknown relative who passed away. While the dream is far-fetched and rarely based on true-life, it is not entirely without precedent. Every once in awhile a story breaks involving an individual who inherits a significant sum of money due to state intestacy rules from someone to which they were related but did not really know.
For example, the Las Vegas Sun reported this week on the latest developments in a case where a substitute teacher found, to her surprise, that she was slated to inherit upwards of $10 million from a distance relative.
According to the story, a reclusive Carson City man died earlier this year. He had few friends, and even though he died in May in his home, his body was not discovered until the following month. After his passing work was done to clean out his home. The man only had $200 in his bank account. However, during the cleaning the workers discovered something quite remarkable--a huge collection of very valuable gold coins. Much of the gold was minted in different places across the world--and some were quite old. There was so much gold that it had to be hauled out in wheelbarrows. It is likely worth between $7 million to $10 million.
The man had no will and no known relatives. It was only after the county clerk's office examined records from the funeral of the man's mother (who died in 1992) that a distant first cousin was found. The cousin knew the man, but had not communicated with him in quite some time. And she had no idea that he was hoarding gold.
This week a district court authorized experts to confirm that the substitute teacher is in fact the closest relative and correct beneficiary under state intestacy succession rules. The International Genealogical Society is slated to take about 30 days to complete the search. In addition, a local expert was retained to determine the exact value of the coins. That value will affect the taxes ultimately owed on the inheritance.
While this story might give hope to those holding out for an unexpected windfall, the reality is that these events are few and far between. That is because the vast majority of individuals who have any amount of wealth--even just a house--are prudent in planning so that they know where their assets are going after they are gone. Many do not do as much as they can--like utilize trusts--but most either create a will or have relatives who they know will inherit (often children).
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