What if I have no heirs? A reader doesn’t love his family enough to leave them his assets. Now what?

Q: What choices are there for a person with no immediate heirs, who doesn’t want the house and other assets to go to the cousins? Who or what can inherit?

What happens if a person has no heirs?

A: We get a lot of questions about estates and inheritances, primarily because a house typically makes up the biggest portion of an estate. Parents are always concerned about whether they should split an inheritance equally (quick answer: not always) and how to deed property. We try to provide options for a variety of circumstances.

We’ve occasionally been asked how to avoid leaving family (the presumed heirs) any part of an estate. Parents or other relatives typically seek to exclude family members when there has been an emotional or physical break: perhaps someone has done something truly horrific or maybe they’ve just been unkind, forgetful or simply absent from family life.

No heirs? No problem. Friends, employees, or nonprofit organizations can inherit your estate

Over the years we’ve been writing this column, we’ve helped readers sort through a variety of problems, ranging from emotional to elder abuse to financial abuse – all of which are valid reasons to avoid leaving someone a piece of your estate.

But, you don’t need a reason to exclude someone from getting your money or property after you die. You just need to decide what you want to do and then take steps to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Setting up your estate so your intended heirs benefit

1. Write a will

The easiest way to do this is to write a will that specifically names the heir(s) to your estate. These heirs could be friends, more distant relatives, the maintenance engineer who helps you when something breaks in your apartment, a nurse or personal assistant who takes care of you, or even a charity or nonprofit that does good work in your community or abroad. You don’t have to let people or the organization know your wishes ahead of time.

2. Set up a trust

Another option is to set up a trust. You may want an estate attorney to help. To properly set up the trust, you’ll need to take the following steps:

  • Start by retitling your assets into the name of the trust
  • Then name the successor beneficiary for the trust. (You would be the beneficiary when the trust starts out.)
  • Name any successor individual or organization as the beneficiary of the trust. You may also name multiple successor beneficiaries for the trust.

Hire an estate attorney

You can arrange this with an estate attorney. Or, if you’ve decided to give your assets to a nonprofit, you can contact them to see if they can help you cover the fees for setting up the charitable trust, since they will be the beneficiary of your estate.

Think carefully about what you want to do but if your family members don’t want or need your assets, or you don’t care to leave it to them, there are so many organizations that would generally welcome this sort of gift and make great use of the proceeds.

Thanks for your question.

Read more about heirs, inheritances, real estate and estates:

Should I set up a trust or use a transfer-on-death (TOD) deed?

Inheritance Property Sold To Investor, Other Heirs Want Property Back

What’s the Best Way to Divide Inherited Property?

How to Sell Your 1031 Exchange Inheritance

How to Help Ensure You Leave Your Family an Inheritance

Real Estate Development Inheritance Costs Heirs Money

Estate Planning: Living Trust or LLC for Properties

Consider Non-Family Member for End-of-Life Agent

Avoid Probate with a Living Trust