Are we entitled to my great-grandmother's property?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My grandfather passed away before receiving an inheritance from his mother. What is our legal standing as heirs to the estate?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

People must be alive to inherit property, which is why the term "survivor" so often appears in estate planning documents such as wills and trusts.

Whether you are entitled to any of your great-grandmother's property depends on two things: what kind of estate planning your relatives had in place and who else was alive when they died.

If your great grandmother's will specified, as most wills do, that only her living children were entitled to take gifts of property, then your grandfather would not be entitled to any of her property -- and it would pass to others according to the will's provisions.

Some wills provide, however, that property should pass instead to a beneficiary's living child or children -- in your case, your mother or father, if I'm parsing the family tree correctly. If your parent decides to share that wealth with you when he or she dies, then you may take some of your great grandmother's property eventually.

However, if your relatives did not have will, then their property passes to survivors by what is called the law of intestate succession, which sets out a hierarchy of people who are entitled to take an estate. If your great grandmother outlives both your grandfather and your parent in such a situation, you could have a legal claim on property she owned at her death, as long as there were no more closely related relatives living to take it.