It’s a fantasy many of us have had at some point: A distant relative dies and his wealth is somehow bequeathed to you. You don’t know the reasons for such a grand inheritance, but once the riches appear, it doesn’t matter — at least in the fairy tale.
This situation does occasionally play out in real life, though not as often as we’d all like. A former California resident who moved out of state several decades ago died in May, though because he was a recluse with no known close friends or family, his body wasn’t discovered until June. But even more startling than that revelation was the $7 million in gold bars and coins he’d been storing in boxes in his home and garage. Some of the gold dated back to the 1840s and came from all around the world.
The man left no will, leaving authorities to track down his closest living relative by scanning the list of guests at his mother’s funeral, which took place in 1992. A city clerk in Carson City, Nevada, where the man had lived since moving from California, finally contacted the man’s first cousin, a substitute teacher living in San Rafael. They weren’t in contact and hadn’t spoken in at least a year.
The IRS will have first crack at the gold, after which the proceeds of its sale will go to the man’s cousin. No other relatives have stepped up to stake a claim on the fortune, which makes this case a lot less complicated than other situations where someone dies with tremendous assets but no will. When this happens, the estate goes into probate, a court process that can take months or even years to settle. Arguments among surviving family members can quickly erupt, making an already complicated process even more difficult.
Even if you aren’t hoarding millions of dollars in gold, chances are good that you can benefit from making an estate plan that will eliminate the chances your family will fight over what assets you do have. None of us can predict when this plan might be necessary, so there’s no need to wait until you’re certain you’re at death’s door. By planning now, any inheritances won’t come as a complete shock to the people you choose to receive your assets, whenever that day comes.
Source: Fox News, “Nevada man dies with $200 in bank, $7M in gold hidden inside home,” Sept. 17, 2012