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Unexpected Inheritance

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News of a death in the family is rarely well received, especially when it's someone who cares very deeply for you. So deeply, in fact, that they have left you with a massive inheritance; but apparently not so much that they ever bothered to meet you in person. This benevolent but reclusive relative you couldn't pick out of a police lineup (and trust us, this is something of a Plot Point) is usually an aunt or uncle, grandparent, great-aunt or uncle, or related so remotely as to give a team of forensic genealogists weeks of work to find a direct connection.

The inheritance might be wads of cash, a lovely piece of land, and/or a set of family memorabilia. Depending on whether or not your relative was a benevolent Anonymous Benefactor is whether the money is tainted with the blood of innocents, the land contains a Haunted House built on an Indian Burial Ground, and whether the family memorabilia is something beneficial like an Ancestral Weapon or Protective Charm, or a higly cursed Evil Weapon or Artifact of Death.

In the middle of the road, the inheritance may be a Secret Legacy they are duty bound to follow, but which is nonetheless Blessed with Suck. Sometimes, there's a problematic condition you have to fulfill before receiving the inheritance.

One thing that tends to crop up is that the dead relative was alive all along and was pretending to be dead in order to pass on their inheritance. In these cases, the inheritor not recognizing their relative may allow them to be in close proximity by wearing little more than a Paper-Thin Disguise.

This is usually a Beginning Trope. It can also be an Ending Trope if a character had administered a test to see who should receive the money — or the author decides to pull off a Deus ex Machina to solve Unable to Support a Wife or other situations where cash is vital.

Compare Passed-Over Inheritance and Game Between Heirs. In this trope, you do not have to worry about other heirs. Can overlap with Unexpected Successor when the inheritance is a hereditary position like the throne of a monarchy or some kind of family business.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Hanaukyō Maid Team. Taro Hanaukyo inherits a vast fortune, a mansion, hundreds of maids and the position of family leader after his grandfather retires.
  • In a complete inversion, Princess Lover!'s Teppei Arima's parents, with whom he lives, die and he finds out about his formerly unknown grandfather being the head of the Arima Group, which makes him now the living heir and sets off the plot.
  • In the Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! light novels (not the anime), Rikka supposedly inherited her "evil eye" from her father before he died.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: A variation of this involves The Joker inheriting rival mob boss "King" Barlowe's fortune, except that most of the money was fake. In his Thanatos Gambit, Barlowe knew Joker would binge-spend before the taxman cometh. As such, Joker is torn between admitting a dead man conned him (and becoming Gotham's Butt-Monkey), getting jailed for tax evasion, or returning to crime to pay off the taxes and protect his image. This was later adapted into an episode for The New Batman Adventures.
  • The Mall (2018): The plot of the comic is kicked off by Diego, Lena, and Dallas each receiving an inheritance from Gino Cardini, a man they're told is their biological father, to their surprise. Each of them is given a store in the Golden Palm Mall to run however they see fit.
    • Dallas, the Jock, is given a shoe store.
    • Diego, the Washer, is given a piano store.
    • Lena, the Cheerleader, is given a pet store.
  • Monica's Gang: There was that time Pitheco inherited ten million bucks from an uncle (it was unexpected because he didn't know the uncle was wealthy) on the condition that he becomes a married man. When he was about to partake in the sacred vows, the executors of the will showed up to tell him that his uncle was secretly married and left a widow and three children. All Pitheco would inherit was the sum of twenty bucks (still on the marriage condition). The marriage was called off, much to Tooga's dismay.
  • One Carl Barks story featured Donald Duck learning he was about to inherit one thousand dollars from a relative he never heard about before but only if he earns another thousand. That inheritance was a ruse from Scrooge McDuck, whose sunken yacht Donald offered to salvage for $50,000 but Scrooge wouldn't pay more than $2,000 for the job.
  • The Flash: In one issue, Wally West inherited half the fortune of The Icicle, a rich Golden Age supervillain. He thoroughly disliked his family and felt that the original Flash, Jay Garrick, was the best man he'd ever known, so he arranged that when he died the money would go to whoever was currently the Flash — in this case, Wally, who he'd never even met.
  • Spider-Man:
    • In The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #131, Aunt May inherits a nuclear power plant. This makes her a target for Doctor Octopus, who wants to get his hands on it and almost marries her to get it.
    • After Annihulus killed Johnny Storm (he got better and rejoined his family about two years later, from his perspective), Johnny's remaining teammates invited Spider-Man to the Baxter Building for a private wake. There, Reed Richards showed a portion of Johnny's holographic will, in which he gave Spider-Man his most prized possession: his spot on the Fantastic Four roster, leading to his involvement in the Future Foundation.
    • Equally, when Wolverine died, his will asked that Spider-Man come to the Jean Grey School and continue teaching, something that utterly baffled the X-Men, leading into the events of Spider-Man and the X-Men. Turns out that he was watching out for someone who could turn evil and trusted Spidey to keep watching.

    Comic Strips 
  • Popeye: Olive inherits a missing uncle's fortune once he's declared dead. He was so long lost she didn't even remember him by the time she's informed of the inheritance. She gives it back to him once he returns.

    Fan Works 
  • Alicorn: Rainbow Dash was orphaned when she was eleven, but was able to live on her own and build a pretty cozy cloud home thanks to a inheritance much larger than what her parents would have owned. It turns out that it was a subtle gift from her biological mother, Celestia.
  • In The Dark Lady, after slaying Fiona, Rumpelstiltskin winds up becoming lord of the Dark Realm — and all of the magical resources that come with it — since he was her son.
  • Played for Laughs in I Must Be Going, when Dorian's favorite author dies; much to his surprise, the author bequeathed him his treasured crossbow, which comes in handy at the climax. The whole thing is an In-Universe fanfic of The Princess Bride, so this is strictly a plot device included for fun.
  • In addition to all the descendants of the Founders in The Awakening of a Magus, there is Harry being entitled to an estate and a baron's title from his mother's side. The next ones in line for claiming it are the Parkinsons.
  • "The Savior Fables" features two of these for Harry Potter and Emma Swan (Once Upon a Time) when Emma adopts Harry after learning about the wizarding world. When Emma and Harry go to Gringotts to formalise the adoption, both are shocked to learn that not only is Harry the heir to the noble houses of Potter, Peverell and Slytherin, but Emma learns that, rather than being an unknown muggle orphan, she is a witch herself, although her parents and godmother (David, Mary Margaret, and Ruby respectively) are all listed as ‘Status Unknown’, normally referring to people in some form of stasis.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The plot of Baghead (2023) is kicked off when Iris inherits The Queen's Head, a 400 year old pub in Berlin, from her estranged father Owen whom she has not seen since she was a child.
  • A variation occurs in The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. The family inherits a large house from their uncle in Romania, and it turns out that he was a werewolf who was using the house to do experiments to find a cure for his "disease".
  • Brewster's Millions (1985): Montgomery Brewster inherits a surprise fortune from a relative he didn't even know existed before being informed of the inheritance.
  • The plot of The Curse of Sleeping Beauty kicks off when Thomas Kaiser receives a phone call from a law firm informing him of an inheritance from his estranged uncle, Clive. Thomas is informed his uncle committed suicide, leaving him a letter and a property known as Kaiser Gardens. The letter tells him to never go to the lower levels of the building and that the family is cursed.
  • Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) plays with this trope twice. First, Elvira gets a message telling her she's got an inheritance from a grand-aunt she never knew existed. Later, she inherits the fortune of her uncle Vincent, who'd been the main villain of the film, since she's his only surviving relative and he'd never made a will.
  • Frankenstein The College Years begins with a college professor dying, and his two best students learning he left something for them.
  • The main plot of The Grand Budapest Hotel is kicked off by one of these, as a priceless painting is bequeathed to the hotel concierge protagonist, angering the actual relatives of the recently deceased countess. A second one comes at the end of the film, where a second will is revealed giving not just the painting but the entire estate to said concierge, in the event of the countess's death by foul play (as the Genre Savvy countess had suspicions that her family was seeking to hasten their inheritance).
  • Harry and the Butler: Harry, a very poor old man who lives in a shack in a junkyard, inherits 3300 kroner ($20K or so, in 1961 money) from a distant relative he never even met. What does he do? He hires a butler, of course.
  • Hold That Ghost plays with the trope. Abbott and Costello unexpectedly inherit a tavern not from a relative but from a guy they just met. The guy, a gangster named Moose Matson, had no idea who he could trust in life, so he left his property to whoever was with him when he died.
  • The Hudsucker Proxy: The Hero inherits controlling interest of Hudsucker Industries from Waring Hudsucker, who willed his shares of the company to whoever became the first person to replace him as the company's CEO.
  • John Carter: One kicks off the Framing Device of the film; young Edgar Rice Burroughs is very surprised to learn that his wealthy uncle — the title character — left literally everything to him, including the diary that contains the main plot. This is drawn pretty closely from A Princess of Mars, the original book that the film is mostly based on.
  • In King Ralph, the entire British royal family dies. Ralph's a very distant illegitimate relative from America. Hilarity ensues.
  • Little Big League begins with the elderly owner of the Minnesota Twins dying and him granting ownership of the team to his 12-year-old grandson. That no one in the majors wants to work for a child is the basis for the film's set-up where the boy appoints himself the bench manager of the team.
  • In the 1923 silent film Little Old New York, the poverty-stricken O'Days are literally getting evicted by their landlord when word arrives that Patrick has inherited a fortune.
  • Mr. Deeds: Deeds had no idea his mother had a wealthy uncle before said uncle died. It also applied to Emilio when he learned he's Preston Blake's illegitimate son.
  • Nickel & Dime is a comedy about a "heir tracer" (or "heir hunter"), who makes a living off finding heirs of dead single people. Usually he just picks off a street somebody resembling the deceased. Since the inheritances never exceed $100, he gets away with it. Then he stumbles upon a rich dead criminal and spends the rest of the film searching for his illegitimate child, with IRS on his heels and an accountant tagging along.
  • Running Scared (1986). Detective Costanzo's Aunt Rose dies and leaves him $40,000, which is enough to retire from the police force and buy a bar in Florida.
  • The plot of Seven Chances revolves around a young man who, on his 27th birthday, finds out that his dead grandfather has left him $7,000,000 (that's $91,000,000 in today's money), but he has to get married by 7 pm of that day.
  • In Snow Dogs, Ted Brooks first learns of his biological mother (as well as the fact that he's adopted) when he's served with her will.
  • In the 2001 version of Thir13en Ghosts, Cyrus Kriticos bequeaths his beautiful, glass-walled house to his nephew Arthur. The bad news? It's haunted by 12 ghosts, and Cyrus is manipulating Arthur into committing suicide so his master plan to create a ghost-powered oracle machine will succeed.
  • Used twice to introduce new characters in the Tremors franchise, in which Jodie and Rosalita each inherit the property of an uncle killed by monsters. The downside is that the property is in Perfection, so both nieces have to move to monster territory to take advantage of the bequest. By the events of movie 6, they and everyone else in Perfection (except Burt) have abandoned the property and moved away: even without the graboids it's property in a tiny, isolated community with no services and not enough of an economy to earn a living, after all, even before the third movie where the surrounding area became a "rare animal" preserve, courtesy of El Blanco, the albino graboid.
  • Young Frankenstein begins when Dr. Frederick Frankenstein learns that his great-grandfather, Baron Beaufort von Frankenstein, unexpectedly bequeathed him a castle in Transylvania — specifically, the location where the Baron's son Victor once created a monster. Deleted scenes show that the Baron passed over many (physically) closer relatives because he felt rewarding Frederick for redeeming the family name was more important than how he liked the other relatives, that the inheritance was conditioned on Frederick visiting the castle in person, and that Frederick had to be convinced to make the trip because he was so disillusioned with that side of the family.

  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • The story The Adventure of the Norwood Builder centers around a lawyer who learns he is to receive one the day before his benefactor dies, leading the police to believe that the titular builder was murdered for the inheritance.
    • Similarly, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist centered around two men seeking to marry Holmes's client because she was the next of kin to a wealthy uncle who had no will, making her the heiress to his fortune by default.
    • Mentioned in The Hound of the Baskervilles: The culprit is a descendant of one of the Baskervilles trying to murder the current heir. Holmes and Watson discuss how Stapleton could plausibly become the heir, and come up with returning under his true identity or by "finding" an heir and using him as a puppet.
  • Brewster's Millions: Montgomery Brewster inherits a surprise fortune from a relative he hasn't seen or heard from for so long that he's almost forgotten about him.
  • In the western novel The First Mountain Man: Preacher's Quest, Chester Sinclair is a penniless porter hired by an artist touring the frontier. A group of outlaws planning to kidnap Chester's employer discover Chester himself is worth a far bigger ransom when they encounter a group of soldiers sent to inform Chester that he's inherited a fortune from a recently deceased senator. The senator was the estranged brother of Chester's father, and Chester hadn't even known the two of them were related.
  • Ghosts of the Titanic: Kevin's father ended up inheriting the estate of the Seaton family. This was Angus Seaton's way of making it up to Michael's family for taking Annie's purse, which would have identified her as Michael's mother, and have gotten her a proper burial.
  • In one of the Heralds of Valdemar books, Myste claims to have come into one of these as an excuse to get away from a group she was infiltrating, knowing that they would never go to the small town where her aged aunt allegedly lived.
  • "Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance" in M. R. James' Ghost Stories of an Antiquary: The titular Mr Humphreys never even met the uncle from whom he inherits the property which he now goes to visit...
  • Great Expectations: Pip receives inheritance completely out of left field, becomes rich and arrogant, finds out who his benefactor is, squanders money, gets the girl (it is implied at least), and becomes less arrogant.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In the first book, Harry not only discovers that his parents were wizards, his father was a rich wizard, and now he has a vault of gold in the goblin bank. Later in the book, he also receives his father's Invisibility Cloak.
    • He's also named the sole heir after Sirius dies. He doesn't really care, since he's rich anyway, but he also receives the deceased's house and house-elf Kreacher—who, awkwardly, is partly responsible for Sirius' death.
    • In the last book, Harry, Ron and Hermione all receive something after Dumbledore dies. In this case, they're not particularly valuable, but turn out to be clues to the book's plot.
  • In the Aunt Dimity series:
    • American Lori Shepherd inherits a fortune and a cottage in England from "Aunt Dimity", a long-time friend of her late mother's. Lori didn't even realize Dimity was a real person until she learned of the inheritance; she grew up thinking Aunt Dimity was the fictional heroine of the bedtime stories her mother invented.
    • A whole raft of these are revealed after Miss Beacham's passing in Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin; among the recipients are not just Lori (who visited her in hospital) and Fr. Bright (whose homeless shelter Lori mentioned to her), but also a nurse who had leftover student debt and several local small business owners in her Oxford neighbourhood.
    • In Aunt Dimity Down Under, Lori brings Bree back with her from New Zealand to visit Ruth and Louise Pym before they die, and they have revised their wills to leave their house and a substantial trust fund to Bree.
  • Jane Eyre inherits a large sum of money from an unseen uncle (he has been mentioned before but only in passing, since her abusive aunt/caretaker Sara hid his existence from her until her death), though it's towards the end of the story.
  • The Cat Who... Series:
    • In book #5 (The Cat Who Played Brahms), Qwilleran inherits a huge fortune from his "Aunt Fanny". All Qwill really remembers about her is that she was a dear friend of his mother's and that he was forced to write polite letters to her as a boy; but since she had no surviving blood relatives, he's the one who receives her billions. According to her lawyer, she considered Qwill to be her godson. The catch is that he has to live in Moose County for five years, but he grows to enjoy the small-town life fairly quickly.
    • When Eddington Smith dies of a heart attack in book #23 (The Cat Who Smelled a Rat), Qwill is shocked to find that Smith, who'd always said he was leaving Qwill his shop in his will, wasn't kidding — he's inherited the old man's estate, including his shop and all the books inside. Unfortunately, the building is destroyed in an explosion shortly thereafter.
  • Chocoholic Mysteries: In Cat Caper, Joe Woodyard is genuinely startled to learn that his ex-wife Clementine Ripley had never written him out of her will, meaning he gets everything when she's murdered... the downside is that it's mostly a large debt, given that she'd let someone else handle her money and they'd embezzled away all that they could. Also, he's determined to not make any actual profit off what he does manage to get from it.
  • The reader/protagonist of the interactive book The Dandee Diamond Mystery didn't expect to be called for the reading of his/her uncle's will, since the two of them hadn't seen each other since the protagonist was a little kid.
  • Angel Light, a novel by Andrew M. Greeley. At the reading of his uncle's will, Patrick "Toby" Tobin learns that he is the heir to an estate worth ten million dollars, but in order to collect he must 1) travel to Ireland, 2) present a letter from his late uncle to a long-estranged distant cousin of the Tobin clan with hopes of ending a long-forgotten family feud and 3) to symbolize the end of the feud, court and marry said cousin's lovely but troubled daughter Sara. And he must complete these three tasks within one month. And Sara is seriously considering becoming a nun. And an angel named Raphaella is bound and determined to help Toby to his happy ending.
  • Michael receives one in Vikram Seth's novel An Equal Music.
  • In Rebecca Lickiss's Eccentric Circles, at the will reading, Piper learns she was set up to meet the condition to get the house.
  • James Bond: At the start of the John Gardner novel Role of Honour, Bond inherits a quarter million pounds from an Australian uncle he has never heard of (Bruce, his father's younger brother). The following spending spree mandated by the will makes him seem suspicious in the eyes of his employers (except for a select few whom he'd reported the inheritance to, per service requirements) and some of their allies, since coincidentally there have been a couple of Soviet men (called "ambulance chasers") hiring double-agents lately.
  • In Gerald Durrell's Rosy is my Relative, Adrian Rookwhistle is bequeathed an unexpected sum of money from his uncle, with the proviso that he look after Rosy, a circus performer and colleague of the uncle. Rosy turns out to be an alcoholic elephant. Hilarity ensues.
  • In A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey, destitute Robert Tisdall is astonished to learn that he has been left a significant amount of money and a property in America by a woman he'd met for the first time a few days earlier. The catch is not an intentional one: she's been murdered, and now the police think he did it to get his hands on the money...
  • Mr. X (by Peter Straub): Used multiple times.
    • First, when Ned Dunstan reads an anthology by his biological father, one story tells of a retired professor who unexpectedly inherited a mansion and its library from another professor; the inheritor ends up reading one of the books, summons a strange creature and is killed by it.
    • Later, Ned's step-grandfather Toby Kraft dies and leaves nearly everything (save for three shares that went to different charities instead) to his stepdaughter Valerie, with the condition that if she predeceased him (which she did), her share would go to her son Ned. Ned himself is quite astounded by this — Kraft had promised to take care of him, but Ned thought he just meant a job in Kraft's pawn shop and had no idea he was in Kraft's will.
    • Ned gets another unexpected inheritance when it comes out that his father was Cordwainer Hatch, older brother of Corben Hatch and uncle of Stewart Hatch, and as such Ned is heir to the Hatch family trust fund. As before, he promptly splits it with a family member, in this case creating another trust fund for Stewart's young son, which the boy will inherit in three separate portions at the ages of 21, 25, and 30.
  • Goosebumps: Welcome to Dead House has the Benton family inherit the titular house from Mr. Benton's great-uncle Charles, whom he's never even heard of. Turns out that it was a setup to make them come to the town — once a year, a new family has to move to Dark Falls so the other residents can drain their blood in order to continue their own existence as walking dead.
  • Harry's Mad: The book opens with Harry Holdsworth receiving Madison the parrot from his recently-deceased great-uncle George, despite the fact that George lives in America and he and Harry have never met. George's will explains that he chose Harry to be the one to receive Madison as the bird is already forty years old and may live for another forty, and apparently isn't used to females, so Harry was the only male relative of a suitable age.
  • Animal Inn: Non-family version in book 12, when elderly Mr. Roy Miller suddenly dies and leaves his pride and joy — his six-year-old chestnut mare Dancer (and her bridle, saddle and horse blanket) — to local vet-in-training Val Taylor, much to her surprise. Roy Junior, who inherited everything else (and plans to sell the family farm and move to New York), explains that his father knew how much Val loved horses (and Junior himself doesn't much care for them), and wanted to make sure Dancer went to a good home.
  • The Cat in the Stacks Mysteries:
    • In book 2, James Delacorte's butler Nigel Truesdale faints when he finds out Delacorte left him almost all his money and the house. He's faking, having learned about the contents of the will in advance and murdered Delacorte to speed up the process.
    • A variant with Charlie Harris, who is shocked to find he was named co-executor of the will. He's also surprised to find that Delacorte had specifically named him in the will, leaving Charlie the job of cataloguing Delacorte's library (a job for which he'd only hired Charlie just a short while ago), including the associated salary. He also left his rare book collection to Athena College, where Charlie works.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Lobelia Sackville-Baggins has always been one of Bilbo and Frodo's least favorite relatives (in large part because of her greed and temper), and the feeling is mutual. When she dies some months after the Scouring of the Shire, Frodo is therefore surprised to find she's named him her sole heir (her husband died in the years between Frodo's thirty-third and fiftieth birthdays, and her only son Lotho was murdered by Wormtongue before Frodo's return), leaving him all her money to be used for helping the hobbits left homeless by the actions of Saruman, Wormtongue, and Lotho.
  • In the Dawn series by V. C. Andrews, protagonist Dawn is shocked to be summoned to the reading of her grandmother's will, as the woman detested her (and it was quite mutual) and she couldn't imagine what she might be receiving. As it turns out, the reason the grandmother hated her so much is because she wasn't her grandmother at all. The reading of the will reveals that Dawn is actually the illegitimate child of the grandmother's late husband by his son's wife, and thus the half-sister of the man she initially thought was her father. The husband didn't want this made public until after his wife died, to spare her the mortification, although she knew the whole time; Dawn and her newly-discovered half-brother jointly inherit their father's estate.
  • In The Thorn Birds, Paddy's wealthy sister bequeaths the bulk of her fortune not to her brother and his many children, but to Father Ralph de Bricassart, the local priest. She doesn't completely stiff her brother — she leaves him her estate, Drogheda, and some of her money — but most of it goes to the priest. Everyone is startled, the priest most of all.
  • In the Sweet Valley High books, there's a very background plot arc for several books that mild-mannered Roger's mother is ill with cancer, and her condition has impoverished them severely. Only after she dies is the truth revealed — Roger is actually the illegitimate son of wealthy Bruce Patman's late uncle, and entitled to a very large share of the Patman estate. Roger himself had no idea, and finds the adjustment quite difficult.
  • Matthew Scudder: One short story follows a Secretly Wealthy bag lady and murder victim bequeathing a few hundred dollars each to various casual acquaintances (including Matt), many of whom can't remember ever talking to her.
  • The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes kicks off the story with this. The main character is a teenage girl who is left a multi-billion dollar fortune by a man she never even heard of until one of his grandsons showed up to inform her. One of the Driving Questions of the series is why he chose her while living in his Big Fancy House with the family he basically disowned.
  • Stranger Than Fanfiction: Joey, Sam, Mo, and Topher get a call from Cash's lawyer some time after Cash dies. They all head to Chicago to meet with Cash's lawyer, Carl Weinstock. Cash leaves them all money to pay for their educations, along with a little something extra.
    • Joey gains ownership of Cash's apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for if he wants to pursue performing arts in New York City.
    • Topher gets a "Billy Trust" to hire a full-time caregiver for his younger brother so he can focus on his education.
    • Sam gains a fund she can use however she likes, but is called the "Transition Fund".
    • Mo receives the official rights to Cash's life story for if she decides to write his autobiography someday.
  • Retired Witches Mysteries: In book 1, Olivia's daughter Dorothy inherits her mother's property soon after finding out the recently-deceased Olivia was her mother.
  • In Donald E. Westlake's God Save the Mark Fred inherits $317,000 from an uncle he never heard of. He initially believes it's a con because he's so used to being fleeced, he has a friend on the Bunco Squad.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Nightmares II: During The Dollhouse, when the Fowlers die, Lina's family inherits the house they were renting from the couple, along with most (if not all) of their money, and an old dollhouse for Lina's sister Charlie.
  • Wax and Wayne: At the end of The Lost Metal, the minor character Allriandre is ambivalent to learn that Wayne — The Atoner who had killed her father — has died and bequeathed most of his estate to her. Then she learns he had become one of the richest people in the country.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Breaking Bad episode "Salud", Skyler has Saul Goodman give her ex-lover Ted Beneke money from his non-existent "great-aunt Birgit" in Luxembourg. It's not actually an inheritance, but money sent to him in order to pay off his tax debt and stop any further investigation by the government which might uncover Skyler's (and in turn Walt's) criminal activities. Unfortunately, Ted is both too stupid to realize the story is an obvious sham and too stupid to use the money to pay off his huge debt, leading to Skyler having to take more drastic measures...
    • Earlier in the series, Saul suggests this as a possible way to explain where Walt's drug money came from to his family. He comes up with a story about an imaginary uncle who Walt lost touch with and died, leaving a substantial inheritance to him. Walt shoots this idea down, mostly because he hates the idea of people thinking the money came from someone else, rather than his own hard work.
  • The Cold Open of one Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode has Jake inherit a million dollars' worth of stock. Unfortunately, it's now-worthless Blockbuster Video stock.
  • Cheers once opened with a lawyer taking Carla aside and informing her that a long-lost uncle has passed away. Said uncle went west with his lucky quarter and made a vast fortune which he wanted to share with his family back in Boston. Unfortunately, this wasn't discovered until the death of his son, who squandered the fortune on cheap pleasures. Carla is now the proud recipient of her uncle's lucky quarter.
  • The Doctor at Large episode "It's the Rich Wot Gets the Pleasure" has Gentleman Snarker Dick Stuart-Clark inherit £50,000 from his wealthy uncle James, and he and two of his fellow doctors get blind drunk in celebration. It is not until they are hauled up before the Board of Directors for their behaviour that he learns the money is not his directly, but is his to donate to the hospital of his choice. He gives it to his employer, St. Swithin's, on the condition that they not be sacked, or even disciplined, for their drunken antics.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Lodger", Craig's previous roommate moved out because he suddenly inherited a large sum of money from an uncle he had never met. It turns out that it was the Doctor's doing, via a Stable Time Loop, so he could move in and investigate upstairs.
  • Downton Abbey:
    • The whole setup of the series is based on the prospect of one: After the Plot-Triggering Death of the Earl of Grantham's two immediate heirs (his first cousin James and James's only son Patrick) in the sinking of the Titanic, the Earl’s third cousin once removed Matthew Crawley becomes heir-presumptive to the estate. As Matthew is four generations removed from his aristocratic ancestry and is himself a middle-class solicitor, this comes as a complete surprise to him. Since the Earl is still hale and in his late forties at this point, he can call upon Matthew to come to Downton and get used to the idea of becoming a Peer (and the great wealth of the Downton Crawleys), but the effect of just becoming the heir is enough to count. The issues this created drive basically all of the first three series.
    • The series gives us an interesting example in series 3. Matthew receives a letter indicating that he was one of three possible heirs named in the will of Reginald Swire — father of his late fiancee Lavinia. The terms of the will were that if the first named heir had died before Mr Swire, then the second one would inherit the whole thing; if the second had also died before Swire, then the third would inherit the fortune. Matthew was the third; the other two are as yet unaccounted for. However, he feels that he caused Lavinia's death by breaking her heart: she saw him kiss Mary, and she died shortly thereafter of Spanish flu, even though her case until then had been quite mild. As a result, Matthew decides he is honour-bound not to take the money, and hopes that the other heirs are still alive, or at least died after Mr Swire (if they had, the inheritance would go to their heirs). When it turns out that both died before Mr Swire, Matthew resolves to give the money away. Unfortunately, at just this time Lord Grantham had lost the entire Crawley family fortune and seemed like he would have to sell Downton. This drives the plot for a few episodes, before Matthew discovers information that he feels releases him from his obligation to give the money away; he invests the money in Downton, and his plans for maximising the estate's profits drive much of the plot for the rest of the series.
    • In season 6, Bertie Pelham is the third cousin of a Marquess, who ends up suddenly dying, leaving the title to Bertie unexpectedly.
  • The series Ghosts (UK) opens with Alison inheriting Button House from a relative she never knew existed. The closest way people can find to describe this extremely tenuous relation is 'step great-aunt/great-niece'.
  • In an episode of Men Behaving Badly, Gary receives an inheritance of £35,000, which he tries to keep quiet about. Unfortunately, everyone else finds out — Tony, Anthea and George — and everyone wants a slice. His long-suffering girlfriend Dorothy is furious she hasn't been told about this, and she forces him to give it all to a hospital charity. Gary then compounds his inept crassness by trying to cancel the cheque...
  • NCIS: The season 6 episode "South by Southwest" had Tony being contacted by the estate of a wealthy relative in England. Thinking this trope is in effect, he spends the entire episode trying to call back, but between work and time zone differences they keep missing each other. Finally in the end it is revealed that the money all went to a closer relative of the deceased, who found among his papers evidence that Tony owed the estate money (which he borrowed during college), and now wants him to pay up. Plus interest.
  • In the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Lavender Lipstick", Mason's client, suspected of killing her employer (a cosmetics manufacturer), is amazed to learn that he has left her his whole estate, including his business. The reason for this is critical to the case.
  • Power Rangers Zeo: In the B plot of "Mondo's Last Stand", the Burble Baby Food Company comes to town because the founder of the company has died and they are looking for the first Burble Baby (the infant from the company's commercials) to give them their inheritance. Bulk and Skull, along with Lt. Stone, go on the case and initially think Jason is the one inheriting, but it's eventually revealed that the company got the age of the baby wrong and that Ernie, proprietor of the local juice bar, was the baby. His inheritance? A lifetime supply of their baby food, which Ernie promptly suggests making smoothies out of. Like many unanswered questions regarding Ernie, we never find out what his surname is during this episode, even though that would have been the perfect episode to reveal it. We also never find out what happened to his 'lifetime supply' of baby food after he leaves during the next season.
  • Roseanne: Downplayed in an episode where an obscure relative dies, and the family receives a small inheritance (as in, enough to treat themselves at a fancy restaurant). However, they're surprised when youngest son D.J. gets an amount that, while still small, is significantly larger than the others. Roseanne quips that this makes sense, because he's the only member of the family whom the deceased never met.
  • Supernatural: Subverted in the episode "Ask Jeeves". Someone calls Bobby's phone to let him know that he's been bequeathed an inheritance. However, Bobby is deceased. As Bobby's "Next of Kin", Sam and Dean go to investigate and possibly collect on the inheritance. It turns out Bobby had been granted custody of the descendant's secret shape-shifter daughter. Unfortunately, the daughter has already escaped from her attic prison and is killing the rest of the family because of her rage at being kept locked up. Sam and Dean arrive just in time to put her down.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • This was how Dalton Castle was introduced to CHIKARA. The reunited GEKIDO, originally a team of Psycho Rangers who had debuted in 2012, "killed off" Darkness Crabtree and tore down Wrestling Is Intense on September 15, 2013 as part of The Flood's campaign of destroying all the Wrestling Is... promotions following the CHIKARA shutdown at Aniversario: Never Compromise on June 2nd. This led to CHIKARA posting a series of videos titled "Rough Waters", where Castle discovered that Crabtree was his "uncle" and that he had inherited a large sum of money, leading to Castle reinventing himself as the wealthy wrestling yachtsman "Smooth Sailin'" Ashley Remington.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement The Asylum and Other Tales, adventure "Black Devil Mountain". A PC receives a letter informing them that their brother has died and left them some property (which, by sheer coincidence, just happens to have Cthulhu Mythos activity going on nearby).
  • Classic Traveller Adventure 12 Secret of the Ancients. One of the Player Characters receives an inheritance from an uncle: a statuette which leads the party into a hunt to find an Ancient site.

  • The early Ahrens and Flaherty (Seussical, Ragtime) musical Lucky Stiff has the protagonist inheriting $6 million from an uncle he's never met (on the condition that he takes his uncle's taxidermied corpse on a vacation to the French Riviera).
  • The plot of the play Juno and the Paycock revolves around a poor Irish family being suddenly informed of a massive inheritance from a distant cousin, leading to them heavily spending borrowed money in the expectation of paying it back easily. It turns out that, due to the inexperience of the lawyer, the will is poorly worded, allowing dozens of distant relatives to stake a claim, rendering it worthless.

    Video Games 
  • The interactive fiction game Anchorhead has the main character's husband inherit a house as the last living relative of the Verlac family. Unfortunately for them, this is a game inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, and the Verlacs turn out to have been not just a bit odd...
  • In Another Code, Ashley receives a package from her father for her 14th Birthday, after assuming he was dead since she was three. It contains the DAS (the DTS in the original North American DS release), and a letter asking her to meet him on Blood Edward Island, thus setting off the plot.
  • Criminal Case: Grimsborough: The 50th case, "Snakes on the Stage" has the victim, Roland Vane, leave some fortune to Adam Bentley, who is pleasantly surprise to be included in the man's will despite only knowing him in the passing. However, this is subverted when later investigation reveals that Adam Bentley was Roland's foster brother.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Two DLCs use this to Hand Wave the Hero abruptly receiving a new Player Headquarters. One nameless "long-lost relative" wills them a remote Mage Tower; another passes on an Elaborate Underground Base first built by a vampire assassin.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, when death befalls pretty much anybody you've helped, you promptly receive a letter of inheritance from a courier, bequeathing you with anywhere from 100-500 septims, with 10% taken off the top by the Jarl as inheritance tax.
  • Fairly obscure 1992 Survival Horror / Eye of the Beholder clone The Legacy: Realm of Terror starts with protagonists learning they can inherit a haunted house. The backstories of pre-generated characters state that their ancestors lost contact with the rest of the family 150-300 years ago. Thus they are still alive.
  • In BeTrapped!, May Vandernot, who lived with her mother's family in New York her entire life, inherits her uncle North Vandernot's estate and most of his fortune, which includes the Bloodstone (a large, flawless ruby, with a curse).
  • In The Sims 2, Olive Specter, who dies within a few days of first playing her house, leaves her inheritance to her estranged son Nervous Subject and not, as expected, her niece Ophelia Nigmos. This situation is rigged, since normally sims leave more money to those with whom they have higher relationships (which in this case is Ophelia).
    • In The Sims 3, this is part of the backstory for the Ivy family, who in their family bio are said to be former hippies who came into money and don't know what to do with it.
  • In The Mystery of Grimstone Manor, a Halloween Episode mini-game from the makers of The Cabinets of Doctor Arcana, the player is surprised to learn that their Uncle Victor has died and left them his entire estate. Uncle Victor lived in the creepy ancestral manor and dabbled in Black Magic, so the player's parents didn't speak of him or let him have a relationship with their child, who is now the last living relative. Of course, there's a catch — they must not only spend Halloween night in the manor, but they also have to Solve the Soup Cans left by Uncle Victor as a test.
  • In the post-game expansion Trespasser for Dragon Age: Inquisition, Dorian reveals to the Inquisitor that his father has been murdered. Much to Dorian's surprise, Halward kept his son as heir despite their long-standing issues, which means that Dorian has inherited not only the family estate but also his father's position in the Tevinter Magisterium. This means that, despite his friendship or romance with the Inquisitor, Dorian will be returning to Tevinter permanently.
  • In one of the backstory segments of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, it is revealed that Aina encountered a variant. She always knew that she was going to get an inheritance from her wealthy grandfather. What she didn't expect was the size of it, namely that she had been left the entire estate. At which point she found herself on the run from the rest of her family, which was upset about the Passed-Over Inheritance.

    Visual Novels 
  • Daughter for Dessert gives one that’s both unexpected and delayed by almost two decades: Amanda’s inheritance of Lainie’s estate. She only has to leave her father behind to get it.

  • In The Silver Eye, when Joshua dies and Apen loses his title as king, Apen's sister April hurriedly gives him the Silver Eye, saying that as an ancient Shephard relic, it should stay in the family, even if he's being banished.
  • Ben inherits several rare and valuable arcade games from his great-uncle, which allows him to start Goblin Hollow.
  • In a story arc of C'est la Vie, Mona and Pierre are at first overjoyed to be invited to the reading of the will for their eccentric artist uncle, and are then disgruntled to realise all they've inherited are dozens of his artworks. They set about trying to sell them for a paltry few dollars, and then Uncle appears to Mona in her dreams. They realise that Uncle has hidden thousands of francs in notes inside the lining of the canvases and desperately set about trying to retrieve the paintings they have sold...
  • The plot of Transmission is kicked off by the foreclosure of Russ and Reg's garage in Britain, only for an uncle to die and leave them a garage in California.
  • The first arc in Savestate that isn't based on gaming involves Kade and Nicole inheriting a creepy old mansion from their uncle Scooby.

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes short "The Wabbit Who Came to Supper" has Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs when he gets a telegram from his Uncle Louie informing that he will inherit $3 million as long he does not harm any animals, especially rabbits. After Bugs enjoys himself heckling Elmer, Fudd gets another telegram saying that Uncle Louie has kicked the bucket... but the Taxman Takes the Winnings, leaving Elmer owing $1.98.
  • Futurama:
    • The episode "The Honking" has Bender inherit a mansion from his Uncle Vladimir. This of course includes the expected catch that he must spend at least one night there (which he wants to do before complaining about there being a catch).
    • In the episode "A Fishful of Dollars" Fry is attempting to save Bender from jail by withdrawing his meager savings. He soon figures out that 1,000 years of interest adds up. A lot. While it is 'unexpected', it wasn't technically inherited.
  • The Simpsons features a couple of these:
    • In "Selma's Choice," Great-Aunt Gladys dies, although nobody inherits anything of any real value beyond Jub-Jub the Iguana. Instead the funeral will serve more to spoil the trip to Duff Gardens and allow Selma to inherit an increased sense of loneliness and isolation. YAY!
    • Played straight with an inversion in "Bart the Fink" when the Simpsons are required to spend the night in a supposedly haunted house (subverting the cliched plot when it turns out to be much more pleasant than their own) in order to collect the vast sum bequeathed to them by Great-Aunt Hortense... until they find out that they missed the part where they only actually get $100 each while the rest goes to Ann Landers.
    • In "Old Money", Grandpa Simpson unexpectedly inherits thousands from his girlfriend, who died while he was away from the retirement home they lived in. He ends up spending it to renovate the home.
  • The Family Guy episode "Peter, Peter, Caviar Eater" centers around Lois's Aunt Marguerite dying and the Griffins inheriting her opulent Newport manor. In a mild subversion of the typical plot, Lois claims to have been fairly close to her aunt before her death... she just never bothered to appear on the show or be mentioned in any way before or after.
  • One episode of The Real Ghostbusters has Ray inheriting a castle in Scotland from a distant relative whom he hadn't seen in years. The castle is (of course) haunted.
  • The Tom and Jerry short "The Million Dollar Cat" has Tom receive a million dollar inheritance from an eccentric old woman, but with the condition that he forfeits the whole thing if he harms another living creature, even a mouse. Jerry takes advantage of this to abuse Tom, stopping the inevitable beating by waving the telegram in his face. In the end Tom has enough and starts beating on Jerry, remarking, "Gee, I'm throwing away a million dollars... BUT I'M HAPPY!"
  • Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: In the episode "A Night of Fright is No Delight", the plot centered around Scooby getting the chance at inheriting an unexpected legacy worth millions — which turned out to be millions in Confederate currency, which was worthless (clearly they never thought of selling all that Civil War memorabilia to museums or other collectors).
  • The Flintstones:
    • Fred Flintstone got two during the original series. First his late Uncle Zeke dies and leaves him a broken down wreck of a hillbilly home called San Cemente.
    • In a later episode, he gains one from his uncle, J. Giggles Flintstone, which comes with a 'spend the night in the creepy house' stipulation. In this case it turns out to be a prank; Uncle Giggles is totally still alive, and totally still a kook (and was testing Fred to see if he'd be a worthy heir; as in, having the same sense of humor as Giggles).
  • Jabberjaw receives one of a goldmine for having saved an old prospector. But in the end this is a clerical error, as the proper recipient was a Mr. Jabberclaw (who is human).
  • One Punkin' Puss and Mushmouse episode featured Mushmouse inheriting one million pounds from a British uncle. Punkin Puss spent most of the episode trying to be on his good graces because of the inheritance until he and Mushmouse learned the "pounds" didn't refer to British currency. It meant one million pounds of cheese.
  • On Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids Wally is notified he has received a castle as one by Mr. Socrates. The Sundance Kids are aware of their formula enough to think this may just be a set up for yet another spy mission. They stumble upon a caper but in this one rare instance, it wasn't their official job to expose it.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle:
    • One episode had Bullwinkle as the heir to the Earl of Crankcase, requiring him to spend a week inside the family manor before inheriting a 1 million pound note. At the end of the week it turns out that he isn't the rightful heir after all, and the actual heirs learn to their dismay that the note is a promissory note, and that they are now obliged to repay the late Earl's debts.
    • Another story arc had Bullwinkle inherit a mine from his Uncle Dewlap. The mine turned out to be in a mountain that floated miles overhead, because the mine was the only source of the anti-gravity metal Upsidasium.
  • The premise of the short-lived cartoon Monster Farm (not Rancher) involved a young man inheriting said farm from a great uncle Karloff.
  • One episode of Freaky Stories featured a wealthy man who wasn't on speaking terms with any friend or relative and made a will leaving his fortune to anyone who bothered to attend the funeral. The only person to do it was an old woman who didn't even know him. She simply needed a bathroom and crashing the funeral was the only option.
  • TaleSpin: "The Balooest of the Blue Bloods" features Baloo getting a surprise inheritance when he finds out he's the last of the Von Bruinwald family and stands to inherit a castle and the title of Baron, if he can fulfill the conditions. He succeeds, but then loses it when the estate is liquidated to cover decades of unpaid land taxes.
  • DuckTales (2017): Played for laughs in the first episode of season 2, which involves a pre-emptive version. During their game night, Scrooge threatens Donald (his gaming partner) that if they lose, Donald's out of Scrooge's will. Donald is shocked because he didn't know he'd ever been in Scrooge's will. (Though possibly subverted by Word of God, as Frank Angones claims on his Tumblr that "There is no way Scrooge actually has a will. He doesn't believe he'll ever die.")

    Real Life 
  • In England — as in most countries — if someone dies without making a will ("dies intestate" in legal terminology), their estate goes to their family. If no family can be found, the government gets the lot ("escheat" in legal terminology). There are several firms of investigators who track down family members (in exchange for a cut) of people who died intestate, providing them with an unexpected inheritance (and avoiding escheat). Note that this only works in England and a few other jurisdictions where there's no hard-and-fast rule on how distantly related you can be and still inherit by intestacy; many jurisdictions, including many if not most US states, forbid relatives beyond a certain degree of kinship (typically second-degree kinship: descendants of the person's grandparents) from inheriting by intestacy, preferring that these "laughing heirs" (yes, that is the technical term, because they're so far removed from the deceased they're not even saddened by their death) not take and instead having the lot escheat to the state.
  • Sometimes appears as another form of the classic 419 Scam. Someone claiming to be a lawyer or executor of someone's estate or what have you sends you an email stating that a relative (often living abroad, usually in Nigeria) has passed away, and that you are the one to collect a very large inheritance from them... if you pay a hefty fee to "speed things along."
  • While this trope is found more often in fiction than in real life, it is possible in cases where there was a random exception in families of long lines of only children. After all if you are an only child of like four generations and an accident wipes out the family but hey, your Great-Great-Grandfather had a brother, then perhaps his descendant may end up getting the benefit of this trope. Assuming of course, they live in a place where one of the above laws is not enforced. That being said, the odds both will be true are slim, though one could argue that perhaps this trope rose out of people being envious of the very few real life examples of people who got this lucky.
  • The Toronto "Stork Derby", which left an inheritance to anyone who fulfilled the conditions in a certain man's will.
  • Some of the real-life examples for Unexpected Successor apply here, in cases of royalty or nobility where the unexpected successor also gets land or a palace or wealth.