Answers to legal questions

posed by the general public to Memphis Attorney Christina Burdette

Q: "Inheritance Question - Is This Normal?..

...A couple of years ago I had a relative pass away. He did not leave a will. He owned a small trucking company and some real estate that was worth a little over $1 million. There are so many heirs to this estate, however, that my share comes to about $11,000.
It looks like things are about to close on the distribution of the assets. The administrator has sent all of the heirs a letter stating that she is withholding the money until she receives a notarized letter acknowledging that we have received the money. She even included a photocopy of the written check with the letter.
Is it normal for the administrator to withhold money until she receives the acknowledgement back? Somehow it doesn't seem right for me to sign this if I haven't actually received the money.
Thanks. "

A: The situation that you are facing is not unusual...

... I understand that you don't want to sign a legal document saying that you've received something that you haven't in fact received. It might make a little more sense if I explain the two different ways to close an estate. One way involves preparing an accounting, filing it with the court, notifying all interested parties and allowing them to inspect the accounting and object, if necessary, This is a very formal process. It is time consuming and costly and the cost is bourne by the estate, meaning less money to be distributed. The other way to close an estate in on "receipt and waiver" and this is what the administrator/attorney of this estate is trying to do. Under this procedure, an informal accounting is sent to each beneficiary, indicating the distribution that each beneficiary is going to receive and requesting that the beneficiary sign a "receipt and waiver." Only after the signed receipt and waiver form has been returned to the administrator/attorney will the distribution check be mailed. In order to close the estate this way, the administrator will have to have signed receipts and waivers from each beneficiary. The problem arises when the checks are distributed to the beneficiaries, the beneficiaries cash the checks, but then forget or refuse to send back to the administrator/attorney the signed receipt and wavier form. Some courts will allow cancelled checks in lieu of receipt and waiver forms, some courts will not. Ideally, if you are in the same town as the administrator/attorney who is administering the estate, you can request to make an appointment to pick up your distribution check. That way you get the check and the administrator/attorney gets the signed receipt and waiver form.

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Christina Burdette