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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Woman inherits fortune in gold coins left in cousin's garage

When a person dies without a valid will, the state figures out how to distribute the person's estate based on what's called the law of intestate succession. Minnesota, like every other state, has a law that decides whom the heirs of the estate will be in these cases. Sometimes, these cases are fairly straightforward, as when the deceased person has left behind a spouse or children to inherit property. Sometimes, however, these cases are much harder to handle

Authorities recently tracked down a substitute teacher in California to tell her that she was the sole heir of a cousin who had died leaving behind millions of dollars in gold coins. Authorities said the man lived a modest life by all outward appearances, but when crews came to clean out his home after his death, they found thousands of gold coins stored in old ammunition boxes in his garage.

Authorities in the state of Nevada held an auction last month to help pay off about $800,000 in tax obligations the man had left behind. The auction involves about half the value of the man's collection and is expected to bring in $3.5 million. The remainder of the estate after the taxes are paid off will go to the substitute teacher.

Few inheritances are as big and as unexpected as this one, but they often involve surprises and complications. The laws of intestate succession are rigid, and sometimes when there is no will, people who thought they were going to inherit a lot end up with little or nothing.

What's more, sometimes even in situations in which a will exists, the results are not so clear. Each state has its own formal requirements for making a valid will, and it's not uncommon for a person to pass away without knowing that a will fell short of the technical requirements. In other cases, a family may have to go to court to show that a will was invalid because the person who wrote it lacked mental capacity to do so. In some cases, the family or others can show that a will is invalid because an unscrupulous person exerted undue influence over the will.

Source: Star Tribune, "Auction selling gold coins left by Nev. Recluse who lived modest life with millions in garage," Matt Woolbright, Feb. 26, 2013

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