Californians may have heard of an interesting story of reunion, and some unexpected inheritance, that brought together two families that never knew of their common ancestry. All of it was caught on camera as part of an Irish television show called "Dead Money" that tracks two genealogist brothers as they track down heirs of people who die without named heirs in Ireland.
The family's tale began with the death of an Irish woman who died without a will, leaving an estate of approximately $1.5 million with no named heir. Similar to the process under United States laws, under Irish law the inheritance of any person who dies intestate, or without a will, is deemed to leave their estate to their next-of-kin. In this case the genealogists tracked the woman's relatives, who came to America in the late 19th century, which led them to the rightful heirs in the United States.
While it makes for compelling television, many people might not be comfortable with a long-lost relative they've never met becoming the heir to their hard earned fortune after their death. There is also the likely outcome that a US court administrator might not go to such great lengths to determine the next of kin, in which case the state becomes the owner of any such unclaimed inheritance.
This story highlights the importance of having a will and named heirs, so that the money and property accumulated over a lifetime goes to the friends, family or charitable organization as desired by the deceased. Having a properly executed will is crucial to avoiding probate and protecting heirs, which is why people should always consult with an experienced estates and trusts attorney when planning their estate.
Source: Boston Globe, "Residents find family and fortune," Katheleen Conti, March 14, 2013