Lipman: I found an old life insurance policy, can I still collect on it?

A son found his mother's unclaimed life insurance policy and wants to collect on it. 

A son found his mother's unclaimed life insurance policy and wants to collect on it.

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Q: I found an old, paid-up $20,000 life insurance policy that never was claimed following my mother's death. Is there a statute of limitations? If so, what should I do to get it? My family could use the money.

A: There is no statute of limitations in this instance.

You should contact the life insurance company and ask them what you must do to collect the proceeds.

Q: My aunt recently died without a will. She never married and had no children. She had five siblings, and some of them had children. One of her brothers was married to a woman who had three children from prior relationships, but he never adopted them. Their whereabouts are unknown. In sorting out my aunt's estate, my lawyer says those three children will need to sign an affidavit and are entitled to a portion of the home. Is he correct or is there a legal way to bypass them?

A: As you are now aware, it can be difficult to figure out who inherits property from a person who dies without a will.

You didn't mention what type of probate your lawyer is recommending, but that is important. If your aunt's estate can be probated using a Small Estate Affidavit, then figuring out who inherits is basically up to you and your lawyer. You would state in the affidavit who inherits and in what percentages. The court would then review the affidavit, without a court hearing, and if it seems in order the judge will sign an order approving the affidavit.

If the probate is a full probate with a personal representative appointed by the court, then part of the probate will be a proceeding called an "heirship determination" where the court appoints another lawyer called an "ad litem" who gets paid by your aunt's estate to figure out who inherits her property. This can be very expensive, especially for an estate like that of your aunt where there are so many unknowns.

From what you stated in your question, it would seem the three children born to your uncle's former spouse would not be entitled to any portion of your aunt's estate. But it is possible that your aunt died, and then your uncle died and then his wife died, all in that order. In that case, the three children may be entitled to a portion of her house. There may be other facts you left out which would result in the three of them inheriting.

If you don't like the advice you are getting from your lawyer, find another one.

The information in this column is intended to provide a general understanding of the law, not legal advice. Ronald Lipman of the Houston law firm Lipman & Associates is board-certified in estate planning and probate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Email questions to: