Losing a loved one is hard, but it can be made harder by not being prepared. If you are over age 18 then you need a Will to simplify the probate process for your loved ones. There are lots of places that you can get a low-cost or free Will, so a simple Will does not have to break the bank. We recently did a presentation on Wills and other types of Advance Directives. You can watch this training here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdrDLq6_Ros&t=1s
We always strongly encourage you to meet with an attorney to execute a Will. Sure, there are lots of free programs on the internet that can help you do your own Will, but those programs do not contemplate your specific situation. Wills can be made complicated by things like blended families, adult children with disabilities, or minor children. This is why it is important to talk to a licensed attorney who has experience drafting a Will and can talk you thorough all the potential issues that can arise in a Will.
After you have your Will you need to make sure that the person you have named as a Personal Representative knows where your original Will is located. Your Personal Representative must take your original Will to probate court, with your death certificate, funeral program or obituary, and a copy of your paid funeral bill as soon as possible.
Probate courts have super-helpful staff. They can not give you legal advice, but they can tell you what forms the court needs completed and when they need them completed by. Most courts give you a checklist of what form is due and when you must submit it by.
The most important thing to remember is that an estate must be probated within 10 years of a person’s date of death. This means that if you wait 11 years to turn over a Will and open an estate, the court can not let you do that. I have seen cases where a person holds on to the Will not realizing it must be filed until years later. This can cause some serious heartache and headaches. If an estate is not opened within 10 years of a person’s date of death, a more formal action must be brought in the court called a Petition to Determine Heirs. This action can be quite expensive, because the court requires certified birth certificates, death certificates, funeral programs or obituaries, and all the potential heirs must be served with notice. The court also requires a hearing and the testimony of a disinterested witness who knew the person who passed away and knew who their family members are. Some probate courts even require that the petitioner pay for a court reporter for this hearing, which can also be very expensive.
So, it’s a good idea to be prepared. Many people handle the estates of their loved ones without an attorney. However, if you have recently lost a loved one and do not know where to turn, you can call and apply for our services at 1.888.346.5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.