Just because a loved one leaves assets to you in his will, that does not guarantee that you will immediately receive those assets. If the probate court cannot locate you following your family member's death, it will turn the unclaimed funds over to a holding office regulated by the state. While some state agencies, such as West Virginia's treasury department, make an effort to locate the rightful owners of unclaimed property, not all agencies are as thorough. If you suspect that a deceased relative may have left you an inheritance, targeted sleuthing helps you uncover and claim the missing funds.
Locating a Will
Visit the county courthouse in the county where your deceased relative died. If you live too far away to visit the courthouse in person, contact the court clerk via telephone.
Ask the court clerk to direct you to the appropriate records department for researching wills. Your deceased relative's will should list his assets and the intended beneficiaries.
Provide the clerk with your name and address and allow the clerk to make a copy of your photo I.D. If you are conducting your search over the phone, the court may request that you mail a copy of your photo I.D. before it will proceed with your records search.
Provide the clerk in the appropriate records division with your deceased relative's name, date of death and any other identifying information you have about the individual. The clerk will then either conduct a search through a computerized records index to locate your deceased relative's information or direct you to a physical records index.
Search the records index for your deceased relative's surname. Write down the information contained in the index. This index notes which will book contains a physical copy of the will. If you are conducting your search via phone, ask the clerk to conduct this search for you.
Locate your deceased relative's will in the corresponding will book using the information from the index.
Request permission from the clerk to photocopy the will if the search is successful. Most courts charge a nominal fee to photocopy records. If you are conducting your search via phone, request that the court send you a copy of the will via mail.
Unclaimed Property Search
Gather as much identifying information about your deceased relative as possible, such as his full name, date of death and, if possible, his Social Security number.
Contact the state unclaimed property office in your deceased relative's state of residence by mail or telephone. Provide the unclaimed property office with your name and address. Request a claim form.
Fill out the claim form when it arrives, including as much identifying information about your deceased relative as possible.
Read the claim form carefully. Note any additional documentation the unclaimed property office needs to complete the search. The documentation required may vary by state but could include such items as your photo I.D., a copy of your Social Security card or a copy of the deceased's birth or death certificate.
Make copies of any documents the unclaimed property office needs to complete the search.
Mail the claim form and required documentation to the unclaimed property office. The office will process your request and notify you when and if it locates property you are legally entitled to claim.
Not all courthouses will conduct records searches over the telephone.
It could take several months for the state's unclaimed property office to process your claim. Your state's unclaimed property office can provide you with additional information regarding processing times.
Consider searching for unclaimed inheritance money in all 50 states rather than merely the state where your deceased relative resided. If your relative owned a business, assets you are legally entitled to may be held in the state where the business was located rather than the state where your relative lived. In addition, you may find an inheritance waiting for you from a relative you were not aware of in a state you would not have otherwise searched.
Many databases will only provide you with exact matches to your search query. If you are not positive of the correct spelling of your relative's name, search under alternate spellings if your first search does not turn up a match.
If you suspect that your deceased relative may have left you property in another state, contact the unclaimed property office in the state the property was located in.
If your deceased relative's will contains assets located in another state that may be unclaimed, such as a vacation home, you must conduct your unclaimed property search in the state where the assets are located.
If you are conducting your search for your deceased relative's will over the phone, you cannot physically search the courthouse records index. If the clerk will not conduct the search for you, ask if the county maintains an online database of records that you can use to conduct the search from home.
Not all counties use the same system for indexing records. If you are having trouble locating your deceased relative's will using the index, ask the records clerk for help.
Ciele Edwards holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been a consumer advocate and credit specialist for more than 10 years. She currently works in the real-estate industry as a consumer credit and debt specialist. Edwards has experience working with collections, liens, judgments, bankruptcies, loans and credit law.