When is an inheritance considered “received” by an heir in the states of Alaska, Idaho,
Oregon, and Washington for purposes of counting it as income or a resource for Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) eligibility? The purpose of this question is to establish and
publish regional instructions to explain individual state laws pertaining to when
an inheritance is “received.”
An inheritance is considered “received” by an heir in the states of Alaska, Idaho,
Oregon, and Washington upon the decedent’s death. However, we advise against implementing
regional instructions for all cases, because the value of an inheritance “received”
may vary greatly until the individual actually receives the item(s) or the date the
estate is closed. We therefore advise that in cases where an individual’s interest
may be too speculative, you may assume that the individual derives no income until
the earliest of either the date the individual alleges receipt of the inheritance
or the date the estate is closed. The Office of the General Counsel is available to
provide advice in analyzing fact-specific cases.
1. Federal Law: Income and Resources
The Social Security Act (Act) provides that an aged, blind, or disabled individual
with a limited income, as set forth under SSI regulations, is eligible for benefits
under Title XVI if his or her nonexcludable resources do not exceed $2,000 (or $3,000
if married) as of January 1, 1989. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1110, 416.1205(a),
For SSI purposes, “income,” which may be earned or unearned, is defined as anything
an individual receives in cash or in kind that he or she can use to meet the individual’s
needs for food and shelter. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1102, 416.1110, 416.1120. A resource
is defined as “cash or other liquid assets or any real or personal property that an
individual (or spouse, if any) owns and could convert to cash to be used for his or
her support and maintenance.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.1201(a). If a property right cannot
be liquidated, it is not considered a resource. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1201(a)(1). In summary,
income is “received” and can be used to meet an individual’s needs for “food and shelter”;
a resource is “owned” and can be used for “support and maintenance.”
Except for amounts spent on the deceased person’s last illness and burial that are
spent by the end of the month following receipt, death benefits (including inheritances)
are considered unearned income upon receipt. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1102, 416.1121(e), (g).
Unearned income is counted at the earliest of when it is received, credited to the
individual’s account, or set aside for the individual’s use. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1123(a).
Death benefits (including inheritances) are considered to be resources the month following
the month in which they meet the definition of income. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1201(a)(4),
Program Operations Manual Systems (POMS) SI 01120.215A(1).
Until an item or right has a value—that is, it can be used to meet the individual’s
need for food or shelter—it is neither income nor a resource. POMS SI 00830.550(A)(2). If an individual was unaware of his or her ownership of an asset, the asset
is not a resource during the period in which the individual was unaware of ownership.
POMS SI 01110.117(A).
An individual is deemed to have an “ownership interest” in an unprobated estate, for
purposes of treating it as a resource, if the inheritance, use of income, and distributions
are uncontested and: (1) documents, such as a will or court records, indicate that
the individual is an heir to the property of the deceased; (2) the individual has
use of the property or receives income from it; or (3) the individual is related to
the decedent such that he or she is entitled to a share of the property under state
intestacy laws. POMS SI 01120.215(B)(2). To establish when the inheritance is received in the absence of regional instruction,
it is assumed the individual derives no income until the earliest of: (1) the date
the individual alleges receiving the inheritance; or (2) the date the estate is closed.
POMS SI 00830.550(B)(2).
2. State Laws
The laws of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington provide that a decedent’s property
passes at death to those entitled to it, whether under a will or by intestate succession.
An heir may assign or otherwise alienate his or her interest in the estate, although
transfer of possession of that interest must await final closing of any probate action
covering the estate. In the absence of probate, distribution is subject to the rights
of creditors and others.
A. Alaska State Law
Alaska has adopted the Uniform Probate Code. Alaska Stat. § 13.06.005 (2009). Under
Alaska law, a decedent’s real and personal property passes and has value to the heir
at the time of the decedent’s death, regardless of whether there was a will or the
decedent died intestate. Alaska Stat. § 13.16.005 (2009). The inheritance is subject
to any homestead allowance, exempt property and family allowance, rights of creditors,
the elective share of the surviving spouse, and administration. Id. Immediately upon the decedent’s death, title to the property is in the heirs. Sheehan v. Estate of Gamberg, 677 P.2d 254 (Alaska 1984). This is not dependent on the existence of a will, probating
of the will, or completion of probate.
B. Idaho State Law
Idaho, which is a community property state, has adopted the Uniform Probate Code.
Idaho Code Ann. § 15-1-101 (2009). Under Idaho law, a decedent’s real and personal
separate property passes and has value to the heir at the time of the decedent’s death,
regardless of whether there was a will or the decedent died intestate. Idaho Code
Ann. § 15-3-101 (2009). The inheritance is subject to any rights to a homestead allowance,
exempt property and family allowances, renunciation to rights of creditors, elective
share of the surviving spouse, and administration. Id.
C. Oregon State Law
In Oregon, upon the death of a decedent, title to the property of the decedent vests
in the decedent’s heirs, “subject to support of spouse and children, rights of creditors,
right of the surviving spouse to elect against the will [if any], administration and
sale by the personal representative.” Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. Title 12 § 114.215(1) (2009).
Upon the death of the decedent, the title of his or her real property passes to the
heirs, subject only to the right of the administrator to possession for payment of
debts. In re Witherill’s Estate, 166 P.2d 129 (Or. 1946).
D. Washington State Law Washington is a community property state, which recognizes both spouses and domestic
partners. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.16.150 (2009). Upon the death of a decedent, a
one-half share of the community property is to be confirmed to the surviving spouse
or surviving domestic partner; the other one-half is subject to testamentary disposition
or intestate succession. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 11.02.070 (2009). The whole of the
community property is subject to probate administration, including “payment of obligations
and debts of the community, the award in lieu of homestead, the allowance for family
support, and any other matter for which the community property would be responsible
or liable if the decedent were living.” Id. Upon the death of the decedent, title to real property vests in the heirs immediately.
Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 11.04.250, 11.04.290 (2009). Subject to community property
rights, nonprobate assets specifically referred to by will vest immediately upon the
death of the owner. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 11.11.020(1), 11.11.060 (2009). An intestate
interest is created only upon the death of the decedent. Matter of Estate of Baird, 933 P.2d 1031, 1035 (Wash. 1997).
The states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington all provide that an individual
receives an inheritance at the moment of the decedent’s death. We note, however, that
determining the value of the inheritance as of the date of the decedent’s death may
pose some challenges. Any distribution of the inheritance is subject to diminution
due to claims of creditors; exempt property and family allowances; rights of the surviving
spouse to elect against the will or, in community property states (Washington and
Idaho), the rights to an elective share by a surviving spouse or the surviving domestic
partner in Washington. As a result, valuing the share of the inheritance while the
assets are still subject to diminution before distribution may be difficult, if not
impossible in some cases. “Until an item or right has a value (i.e., it can be used
to meet the heir’s need for food or shelter)” it is neither income nor a resource.
POMS SI 00830.550(A)(2). Where an individual’s interest may be too speculative, you may wish to assume
that an individual receives the inheritance at the earliest of the date the individual
alleges receipt of it or the date the estate is closed. POMS SI 00830.550(B)(2). An analysis of the date of receipt of an inheritance will depend on the specific
facts of each case, and advice from the Office of the General Counsel is available
on a case-by-case basis.