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dchisholm125
03-27-2013, 01:35 AM
Hi!

Quick question from a legal perspective. Is an inheritence considered to be something of public record?

In my short story, a women is killed over an inheritence and my MC goes to a lawyer/town clerk (or anywhere else she can scrounge information) and finds out that she was left over $500,000,000.

So, can I publicly find out this information or would she basically have to steal it from somewhere?

mirandashell
03-27-2013, 01:44 AM
I assume you're talking about American law?

King Neptune
03-27-2013, 02:13 AM
In the U.S. inheritance is handled a little differently in each, but generally if there iis a will that has to go through probate, then there will be a record in the probate court records. If nothing goes through probate, then there may still be deeds or deaths certificates filed with the land records. I have seen cases where families didn't file anything for a few generations; they paid their taxes regardless of the fact that the person whose name was on the tax bill died decades ago.

So, if there were records filed, then she can look at them. You can make it as easy or difficult as you wish, depending on the state.

frimble3
03-27-2013, 08:35 AM
Hi!



In my short story, a women is killed over an inheritence and my MC goes to a lawyer/town clerk (or anywhere else she can scrounge information) and finds out that she was left over $500,000,000.

So, can I publicly find out this information or would she basically have to steal it from somewhere?
I would think that the death of a person with $500,000,000 to bequeath would be all over the media. There aren't many $500,000,000aires out there. It would be pretty public, I'd guess, and from there, the identity of your dead heir would be trackable.

Liralen
03-27-2013, 12:26 PM
In the U.S., yes, it is public record in whatever court clerk/recorder's office handles probate matters in that particular county or parish.

But she'd have to have a reason to look?

dchisholm125
03-27-2013, 09:44 PM
Thanks! Yes, US law by the way. I appreciate the insight.

The MC has a pretty good reason for looking. It's sort of a detective short story from the perspective of an obsessed witness of the murder. Anyway, see you in SYW!

GinJones
03-27-2013, 10:47 PM
The details of how an estate is handled varies from state to state (including the name of the court that handles these matters), but generally there is enough information available to the public for basic information about an inheritance to be researched (assuming the decedent didn't have a living trust that hid the details of the estate's assets and/or distributions).

If the story is set in Colorado, I believe the state has adopted the Uniform Probate Code. That might complicate matters, when it comes to the availability of detailed public information, because under the UPC, if the estate is handled without any objections by interested parties, a lot of information can be kept private (but doesn't NEED to be kept private, so you could go ahead and have it be public information if necessary for the story).

If there was some sort of will contest, then more information would likely be publicly available, because the inventory would have to be filed (showing what assets the estate owned on the date of death), and a contest would likely end up requiring a formal closing, which requires the filing of a detailed account (showing who got what), whereas with a simpler estate, the account can be sent only to parties and not filed with the court where it would be public.

Generally, the will itself and the names of all the relatives and any non-relative beneficiaries of the will are also public record, so even if the account wasn't public record, an investigator could make an educated guess about the value of the inheritance, from reading the will and the inventory.

Not giving individual legal advice, just general information. There is a fairly detailed website for t he Colorado probate courts, if you search the web. Unfortunately, the one place where I saw a reference to FAQs for estates, the link either didn't exist or was broken. There are some PDFs, though, that offer basic information on filing a petition and doing the closing statement, which are the two documents that would have the information your researcher would be looking for.