You need neither legal language nor formalized procedure to ask if you inherit under a will; who and how you ask depends on the stage of the proceedings. A will is a person's written expression of her intentions for her property after death. The testator names heirs, an executor and one or more guardians for her minor children in a last testament. After her death, the executor takes over the property, opens probate and prepares the estate for distribution.
Ask the testator herself, during her lifetime, whether you are an heir in her will. Realize, before asking, that a testator's will is private and personal while she is alive. She changes it at will, either by a codicil amending a bequest or else by a superseding will. She voids it by crossing out the terms of the will or ripping it up. The only legal manner of determining whether a living testator names you in her will is to ask her directly.
Read More: How to Find the Executor of a Will
Ask the executor -- after the testator's death -- whether the will contains a bequest for you. An executor is the person charged with steering the last testament through the probate process. The court supervises the executor's management of the estate, initially determining whether the will is valid, then requiring and reviewing reports until distribution. An executor owes the highest possible legal duty, termed a fiduciary duty, to the heirs and must inform them expediently of their bequests. Call the executor and ask directly whether the testator named you an heir.
Locate the executor by locating the will. If you do not know the executor's identify, find the court that probates the will. Generally the court in the county in which the testator resided has probate jurisdiction. Visit the court clerk's office during business hours. Provide the name and date of death of the deceased and request the probate file. The probated will is among the early filings. The will usually names an executor and, when it doesn't, the court appoints one. Locate the name and address of the executor in the file and contact him or simply look in the will to make the determination yourself.
If you expected to be named in the will but were not, consider retaining an attorney to review the situation. State statutes allow will challenges when someone questions a will's validity. In most states, only someone with a pecuniary interest has standing to challenge the will, a close family member who inherits under intestate statutes in the absence of a valid will, or an heir under this will or an earlier one. Common grounds for a will contest include dishonesty or undue influence by a third party.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.