Information for Foreigners with US Inheritance Matters

If you expect to inherit something from a person who died in the United States, there are various ways through which that property may pass to you:

  1. Beneficiary Designations.

In the United States financial account holders can and very often do designate a person to receive the funds in the account after the account holder’s death. In this case the property passes without the involvement of the courts, merely based upon the contract between the account holder and the financial institution.

Financial institutions require foreign persons who do not have a Social Security Number to apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number.

2. Joint Title with Right of Survivorship

In the United States some property may be held by several people and be titled jointly with right of survivorship. This type of ownership is common with real estate, vehicles and financial accounts. Upon the death of the joint owner that owner’s share passes automatically to the surviving joint owners.

3. Testament

If you are the beneficiary of a testament, you will receive your distribution from the personal representative of the estate. This person is named by the local court most likely based on the will of the testator. The personal representative pays the debts of the decedent, files tax returns, takes care of all necessary paperwork, winds down the affairs of the decedent, and carries out the wishes of the testator within the constraints of the law.

The court process is called “probate”. It usually lasts approximately one year. In more complicated cases it can last longer.

4. Intestate Succession

If your relative has died without a testament and you suspect to inherit something based on the laws of intestate succession, you need to check which assets if any may pass based on beneficiary designations or joint titles. The rest passes based on a probate proceeding at the local court in the jurisdiction of the decedent’s last domicile.

The court will appoint a personal representative of the estate.

Please keep in mind that the rules of which relatives inherit if the decedent dies without a will vary state by state. There is no uniform law of succession in the United States.

Our law firm represents heirs and beneficiaries, settles estates, negotiates trust settlements, advises executors and estate administrators, and litigates inheritance-related claims.