College Central®

Ask around. The Network works.®

Personal Finance
Six Lessons on Protecting Your Inheritance As a Beneficiary

Dorothy Zjawin -- Whether an inheritance brings emotional comfort or financial support, beneficiaries should know what's needed to ensure that they receive what is rightfully theirs and to avoid experiencing an even greater sense of loss.

Before my beloved aunt passed, she chose a cousin to serve as executrix. That executrix chose a CPA who was as unscrupulous as she and together, they ripped the estate and its beneficiaries off on thousands of dollars. They chose not to share any information with the seven beneficiaries or the estate lawyer. And to make matters worse, they skimmed off beneficiaries' inheritance payments by the thousands.

I was one of the beneficiaries who was ripped off, and include some of the most important lessons learned from this experience so that you needn't go through a similar ordeal.

LESSON 1: Make sure that the executor or executrix is bonded. It costs money, but will pay for itself, making the executor liable for valuables that may be stolen from a loved one's estate. No matter if that person is a family member. Never assume that he or she will be honest. I didn't know my cousin after so many years, as I had not seen her since we were children! She was a complete stranger to me. Had I been wiser, I would have insisted that she was bonded and made sure that my fellow-beneficiaries worked together to keep her honest.

LESSON 2: Always, always remember that estates are not policed. Unscrupulous persons, including professionals as CPAs, executors and attorneys are not always what they seem. Check them out carefully and keep written records as well as copies of letters and other correspondence that you send or receive from any of them. If anything can go wrong, it will. To minimize the chances of something going wrong, beneficiaries should consider getting together and working as a team.

LESSON 3: Have the probate court assign someone to accompany an executor or executrix as he or she inventories assets in a decedent's home. Items as cash, jewelry, and other valuables can easily be stolen if an executor or executrix is left alone to his or her own devices.

LESSON 4: Remember that an executor or executrix is not your boss. He or she cannot deny you the right to visit a deceased parent's residence and take items as keepsakes. Another thing that executors must do is provide updated reports on their progress in administering a given estate. If an executor or executrix habitually refuses or procrastinates, beneficiaries have the right to get rid of him or her and request another person to serve. This may be as simple as requesting this transfer at probate court or hiring an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable on estates and wills in your state. Every state differs in these matters, so it may be in all of your best interests as beneficiaries to decide what to do together.

LESSON 5: Be aware of how long an executor or executrix takes in responding to your questions or requests. If a month has passed and you have not heard from that person, start inquiring immediately and make copies of any written requests.

LESSON 6: Never sign off on anything without an opportunity to review the final accounting. Check it for omissions or errors, or hire an attorney to do that for you. Once you've signed off, you lose your right to have errors corrected and potentially thousands of dollars.

Pay attention and review those lessons before anything happens, so when the inevitable event occurs, you will know what to look for and how to deal with it, avoiding mistakes and protecting what you are rightfully entitled to.


Dorothy Zjawin is the author of a number of Instructor articles and a published author. Her eBook, "How NOT to Get Ripped Off as an Heir" is available at Dorothy also welcomes questions and comments. As a writer, Dorothy is interested in a number of things and is an amateur cyclist who rides for fitness and posted entries in a related blog, among others.

© 2014 Dorothy Zjawin

Return to top

The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal, financial, or medical professional.