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What does it mean to “disclaim” an inheritance?

On Behalf of | Mar 2, 2023 | Estate Administration & Probate |

Too often, when people put their estate plans in place, they don’t consult their loved ones about what assets they’d like to inherit. They may think they know best or not want to start a family conflict. They may just not feel comfortable talking about it. 

This can leave loved ones stuck with things they don’t need or want. Many of these inheritances can be stored away or given to charity. But what if you inherit a home that’s hundreds of miles away in an area where you have no desire to live? If it’s not worth the time or trouble to fix up and sell, and you don’t want to deal with taxes, insurance and other expenses in the meantime, you have the option to simply decline the inheritance. The legal term for that is to “disclaim” it.

The process of disclaiming an inheritance

California law states, “A beneficiary may disclaim any interest, in whole or in part, by filing a disclaimer….” The disclaimer needs to be filed in writing “within a reasonable time…” which is defined in the law as nine months or less. 

Typically, with something like a house, you’d want to file the disclaimer with the court or the estate executor sooner rather than later to avoid the continued expenses of maintaining it. Further, a beneficiary typically can’t take possession of, use or benefit from an asset and then disclaim it.

The decision to disclaim an asset is irrevocable. Therefore, before you decide that this is the best course of action for you, it’s wise to learn more about what disclaiming an inheritance means and what other options you have for an inheritance you don’t want. Having sound legal guidance can help.