Introduction to Estate Settlement
Family Meeting - Reading Of The Will
After the funeral direct family members should convene in a group to discuss a variety of important “family matters”. The collective group may have “pieces” of information that when shared provides a clearer picture of the circumstances of the decedents estate. Although this may be a difficult time, it is incumbent upon the family to "come together" in an effort of shared cooperation, care and purpose.
Items to discuss
- Did the decedent have a will?
- Who was the attorney who wrote the will?
- Is there a safe deposit box, if so, where?
- Where did the decedent keep important papers?
- Was there a Trust Agreement established?
Who is believed to be a “responsible party” named as: Executor, Personal Representative, or Trustee? (what is the basis of this belief? i,e, informed by the decedent, the document viewed, conversation with attorney, etc).
Finding the Will
The “responsible party” and an objective direct family member(s) should start an organized search for the Last Will and Testament of the deceased. If the Will is easily discovered the dated date of the document should be noted as well as the decedent’s signature page.
The first Will discovered may or may not be to Last Will and Testament or the document may not have been fully executed and may be deemed invalid. So keep looking. There can only be one original Will. Copies may be helpful and should be retained but the original is required for prima facie evidence that an Executor or Personal Representative is named.
Places to Look for Will
- Among personal papers at residence(s)
- Call the attorney’s office who drafted the Will
- In a safe deposit box at a financial institution
Upon discovery of the Last Will and Testament the named Executor or Personal Representative must take physical possession of the document. With the Will and a certified copy of the death certificate the executor will file for letters of appointment or testamentary.
(Order a certified copy of a death certificate for all 50 states)
Access to Safe Deposit Box
Also among personal effects of the decedent should be the key to a safe deposit box . If the executor’s (or joint tenant) signature is on file with the financial institution than they may proceed to remove the Will. A bank officer should witness the sole removal of the Will document.
If there is not a surviving co-signatory on the safe deposit box than the matter should be directed to the Probate Court in the county in which the decedents was domiciled.
Probate and estate settlement affairs are governed by federal and state laws. (state probate laws table) Specific state laws are administered through local county offices usually located at the county courthouse. The name of the appropriate county offices varies from state to state.
Names of County Probate and Estate Offices
- Registry of Probate
- Probate Court
- Clerk of Probate
- Probate Office
- Register of Wills
- Circuit Court Probate
- Orphans Court
- Surrogate Court
Contact the decedents (domiciled) county courthouse for the office that handles Estate or Probate issues.
If a bona fide Will does not exists or cannot be located than the descendent is declared to have died intestate - Without a will by the Probate Court. ( under this circumstance: see The Personal Representative transfer of property – intestate).
Reading the Will
With possession of the Last Will and Testament the Executor should read the Will in the presence of the direct family members. Stated beneficiaries should also get a copy of the will within 30 days of the date of death. The Will’s purpose is to capture the wishes of decedent (or testator). The provisions and terms of the Will document will direct (in concurrence with applicable laws) the executors actions in the distribution of testator estate.
The Executor or Personal Representative - Assumes Duties
After the reading of the will the executor should take physical possession of the Will in assumption of their duties.
Executors nd Personal Representatives proceed to "The Personal Representative" section of our site.
Word of caution - before taking action read this
Executor, Personal Representative and trustee fiduciary duties