Inheriting Something You Don't Want

When my grandfather died, his house went to my mother and her sister. The house is a crumbling hunk of junk in a bad neighborhood. Fortunately, Mom was able to sell it (after over a year on the market), but in the meantime she was responsible for property taxes, upkeep, etc.

Suppose my grandfather had left it to some obscure relative who barely knew him, just for shits & giggles. Would that person legally have been responsible for its property taxes, upkeep, etc.? Could they have refused it? Could they argue that it should be my mom’s responsibility, what with her being next of kin and all that?

What about custody of children? If the will states that they go to you, and you don’t want them, are you SOL?

The implications of this issue have been made very clear of late. When two F2 tornados blew through Springfield last spring, there was a house that had a tree blown into it. The house had been empty for some time, with the owners out of state. The house has sat there for over a year, with a tree lying across the middle of it, while area scofflaws have used it as a place to dump their trash. Needless to say, neighbors have been complaining. The city has claimed that cleanup and repair are the responsibility of the out-of-state owners. The out-of-state owners have said that they don’t have any money, that they got the house when their dad left it to them, and that paying several thousand dollars to repair a worthless house isn’t in the cards. Doubtless the courts are going to be involved.

I guess the bottom line is, is there a legal remedy to exclude yourself from an inheritance that you don’t want?

I’d think you would have to sign something to take title of a building, but I’m not sure. I can’t imagine it would be legal to force someone to be an owner of something. Maybe there’s a lawyer out there who knows these things?

Yes. In most jurisdictions it is called a disclaimer. Here’s an example of a statute describing the procedure for disclaiming an inheritance:

Notice there are time limits and restrictions–(g) is crucial. Once you’ve accepted the property, you usually can’t change your mind because it turns out to be a bad deal.

Children aren’t inherited. If the will says you get custody, that’s generally not conclusive, anyway. In the guardianship proceeding that ensues, you can say you don’t want the kid.

Then what happens to property that no one wants?

If I inherit a house, and disclaim it, then does it just sit there and rot, and the city has the responsibility of demolishing it?

It’s a bit complicated, and I’m pressed for time right now. In most cases a will will have a residuary clause, which spells out who gets things that weren’t otherwise provided for in the will. That’d be the first place to look. If the only residuary beneficiary is the person filing the disclaimer or there isn’t a residuary clause, it gets a bit more complicated.

If truly nobody wants the property, then it will probably go to the state. Depending on the facts and local law, it’s possible the estate (assuming there were assets besides the house) would be liable for demolition costs, but I haven’t really thought that part through.

IANAL, but my understanding is that if there are no heirs (or the heirs don’t want it) the estate goes to the state and property is auctioned off and the proceeds added to the general fund.

You don’t have to take ownership of anything in a will. They will ask you to sign a legal paper saying you don’t accept the item.

Here’s a thread where we talked a bit about this:

It’s called a disclaimer.

As Lucy would say “That’s it!”

From the Illinois statutes:

Probate Act of 1975.

I don’t have anything to contribute to the discussion, other than to say that the section Gfactor quoted is one of the worst-drafted statutory provisions I’ve ever seen! Do they not have sub-sections in Texas?!? That pig should be broken up into about 5 different sections, with further sub-sections, to make it easier to read and understand.

A block of text like that is pretty much incomprehensible. The reader needs white spaces to make sense of it.

Part of that is my fault (sort of). The thing is broken up into subsections (a)-(h). Unfortunately:

  1. The main paragraph and subsection (a) are still huge;
  2. Texas statutes open up in olde-fashioned Courier instead of a proportionally-spaced font and the text includes line-breaks, which accounts for the stupid half-width quote. I would have had to spend half an hour cleaning that baby up to make it more readable, and I didn’t have the time. Try the link and you’ll see what I mean.
  3. So it’s my fault for failing to either clean up the quoted material or find a better-written or better formatted statute to use as an example.

I wish I’d known about that disclaimer. I got my grandfather’s house and he had a mortgage on it that exceeded the market value and I paid the difference.