If you need money now, the expectation that you'll receive an inheritance years in the future doesn't help much. That can change if you "assign" your future inheritance to someone else in return for immediate cash, providing your state law allows this. The legal term for what you're giving up is "expectancy" -- something you expect to own in the future.
As long as your benefactor is alive, he can change his will and write you out. Normally, the law doesn't let you sell something that doesn't exist yet -- such as money you may or may not inherit someday -- but many states do allow you to sell a future inheritance. If your state permits assignment, you can trade your expectancy in return for a fair price, providing nothing you give up cheats your fellow heirs of their share of the estate.
Release of Expectancy
One way to get cash immediately is to release your expectancy to assign it back to your benefactor. In return for renouncing your right to inherit, he pays you money or property up front, before his death. In addition to helping you financially, these release agreements can resolve potential inheritance problems by reducing the number of heirs. To sign a binding release, you must be in your right mind, and the arrangement must be free of fraud or coercion.
Selling Your Inheritance
Instead of releasing your inheritance back to your benefactor, you can ask for permission to assign it to a third party. If you expect to inherit your father's house, for example, you can draw up a contract selling the property for money now, with the understanding the buyer will take title when you inherit. If things go wrong and your inheritance doesn't materialize, or it's worth less than your advance, you're on safe legal ground as long as you didn't commit fraud.
The transfer of ownership doesn't happen until your benefactor dies and you inherit. If you assign it while he's alive, you cannot then turn around and commit it to someone else: Even though the assignee hasn't taken title, that's still denying him his rights. Don't try using assignment as a tax scam, either. In one Arkansas case, an heir claimed he could assign his inheritance to a trust with himself as beneficiary and therefore, as it wasn't his property, the IRS couldn't attach tax liens to it. The courts disagreed.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.