How can I be made a beneficiary on my deceased mom's estate when none was named?

1 answer | Last updated: Jun 18, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom recently passed away. My father is also deceased. There are 3 adult siblings including myself. My mom left insurance policies with my father as beneficiary on 2 and none on the other 2 policies. She also has a bank account with no beneficiary. What action has to be taken to obtain the proceeds from the life insurance and bank account? My mom and I had another bank account which I used to pay for half the funeral services and the remainder came from my savings. I would like to be made whole and then split remaining proceeds with my siblings. My mom lived with me the past 4 years until going to a nursing home. Thank you for your assistance.

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.

Your predicament is the perfect illustration of why it’s preferable for a person to plan ahead and leave a will or other estate planning documents that specify how their property should be managed and divided when they die.

But you know that.

If your mom left no formal directions about what to do, you will have to go to the local probate court and follow its procedure for an informal probate. While this is not difficult, it usually does take a bit of perseverance and require a bit of hoop-jumping and paperwork. In most cases, the courts will require that one person act as personal representative, who will be responsible for filing the paperwork and taking care of other tasks such as running a legal notice to potential creditors in the local newspaper.

While this probate process can be a bit worky, as mentioned, the hopeful news is that the probate clerks in most locales are very helpful—usually providing a packet of instructions to follow and even giving out direction to those who get stuck or have questions along the way.

Eventually, your mom’s property will be distributed according to the formula set out in state law—mostly likely, divided equally among the surviving children. Be sure you have good records and receipts for the money you spent on your mom’s final expenses; you should be able to be compensated for them.