Should my late aunt's inheritance be divided among the rest of the beneficiaries?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

my grandfather died and his bank account was transferred to his kids. It became a joint account among my 3 aunts and my dad. When my dad died, my mom withdrew his share. The joint account was now shared by my 3 aunts. Of my 3 aunts, 1 died leaving no heirs. shouldn't her share be divided by 3 -- 1/3 each for my 2 aunts and 1/3 for my dad's heirs?

Expert Answers

Judy and Fred co-mediate family property and financial conflicts, and each work individually as mediators as well. Judy Barber, a mediator and family business consultant, assists clients in resolving overlapping family and money conflicts so they are better able to make sound estate planning decisions. Frederick Hertz is an attorney and mediator who specializes in resolving co-ownership matters involving families, siblings, spouses, cohabitants and domestic partners.

You have not told us the details, but we're assuming that the account was not a joint tenancy account, which by law provides that the surviving account owners receive the entire share of the deceased co-owner. If it had been a joint tenancy account, when your dad died his one-fourth of the account would have transferred to your aunts, and not to your mom (as your dad's survivor). By the way, your mom would have inherited his share even if he did not have a will, as she was his intestate heir.

Assuming the account remained a tenancy-in-common account and was not a joint account, each owner's share is treated as his or her own asset, and does not automatically go to the co-owners upon a death of one of them. Instead, your aunt's share would go to whomever she designated as her heir, according to her will, if she had one. However, if she didn't have a will, her share would go to her intestate heirs, which is the legal rule for inheritance when someone dies without a will. Keep in mind that even if your aunt had no children, she still has intestate heirs, and they are set forth in the intestate law of your state. Under California law, for example (Probate Code §6402), your aunt's share of the account would go to her two siblings in equal 50/50 shares, and none of it would pass to you or your siblings. If your state's intestate rules are like those in California, that same result would be the rule in your case.

We suggest that you consult with a probate lawyer in your area, to learn what the intestate rules are and to confirm that your aunt did not have a will. Then, if you are not entitled to anything under the intestate rules, you don't have a legal claim. You can always ask your aunts if they are willing to share the one-third portion with you, but you won't be able to press a legal claim against them if they decline to do so.