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Can you turn down an inheritance after someone dies?

On Behalf of | Jun 30, 2023 | Estate Planning |

Some people don’t feel comfortable discussing their estate plan with their loved ones. Sometimes it’s the loved ones who don’t want to talk about a time when their parents or other older relatives won’t be around. This is how people end up inheriting things they don’t want.

It’s easy enough to put a hideous sculpture away in a closet or give a vintage toy train set to charity. But what if it’s something you can’t ignore – like a house? While you can get some money for it, it might not be worth the trouble – especially if it’s thousands of miles away. If you keep it, even for a short time, you’ll have to deal with keeping it secure and maintained and possibly have to make tax and insurance (or even mortgage) payments.

Taking the appropriate steps to disclaim an inheritance

You can turn down or “disclaim” an inheritance. However, it needs to be done promptly and correctly. 

Under Massachusetts law, in most cases, “a beneficiary may disclaim any interest in property which…pass[es] to the beneficiary.” It’s important to note, however, that you can’t take possession of or use an inheritance and then disclaim it. The law also states that the right to disclaim an inheritance is forfeited by “acceptance of such interest by the beneficiary; if the beneficiary, having knowledge of the existence of such interest, receives without objection a benefit from such interest, such receipt shall be deemed to constitute acceptance of such interest.”

If you are the beneficiary of any asset that you’re considering disclaiming, the wisest move is to get legal guidance before taking any other action. Then if you decide to disclaim it, you can file the appropriate paperwork and notify the relevant parties so the asset can then go to a contingent beneficiary (if there is one) or back to the estate.