Finding out you are the beneficiary in a decedent’s will can be a small dose of good news in the midst of experiencing grief and in the process of adjusting to life without your loved one. Sometimes, though, a decedent’s beneficiaries are not negatively affected by the death of the person that leaves assets to their name. In this case, the law calls this particular kind of beneficiary a “laughing heir.”
A laughing heir is a beneficiary who was distantly related to the decedent and likely has very little reason to be saddened by that person’s death. If a decedent leaves behind no spouse, children, siblings, or parents, for example, he or she might have chosen to give their assets to a relative that he or she did not know very well.
If the decedent died without a will or estate plan, the probate court might divide his or her assets using the law of intestacy – this essentially means that the decedent’s closest living relatives will inherit his or her assets. When the closest living relatives are distant relatives, those relatives might be considered laughing heirs.
For years, scholars and lawyers have pointed out the odd quality of the laughing heir. While many assume that a decedent’s beneficiary will necessarily be saddened by that person’s death, the idea of the laughing heir introduces the possibility that those without any real sense of loss can still benefit monetarily from a person’s death.
Importantly, individuals making their estate plans can write their wills or create their trusts to benefit whoever they want to benefit. There is no law saying that a person must choose their closest kin in their estate plan, although this is what typically ends up happening for many individuals making long-term plans.
If you are interested in formulating a personalized estate plan – one that might seem abnormal to others – know that you are not alone. Experienced estate planning attorneys will be able to help you through the process so that you can make sure your money and property are distributed exactly as you want them to be distributed. On the other hand, if you have found yourself in the position of the laughing heir and you are facing any kind of retaliation for the assets you are inheriting, call an estate planning attorney today to make sure your bases are properly covered.
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