One common challenge people face is how to access the original will of a deceased person. Although it is a public record, it is usually with the executor/estate administrator or probate attorney while probate is on-going. However, copies of the will will be kept by the county probate court where the probate is being conducted.
There are many reasons why someone may want to view the will. It could be a relative of the deceased trying to see the exact words to ensure there is no foul play. Or it could be an entire stranger looking to gain some insight in any past will that has been probated.
And although wills and other probate files are supposed to be accessible to the public, you may have to pay or wait some time before the court provides them for you. But you can make things easier by seeking help from a probate attorney.
How your probate attorney helps you access the Will of the deceased
Your probate attorney can help you determine the specific court where the will was filed for probate. In general, probate will take place in the probate court located in the county where the deceased resided at death, or where they owned real property.
The probate attorney can help you check in with the court to gain access to the probate files. You would not be given the original will but a copy of it. You would also see other information such as when the will was filed, which probate attorney was hired, the value of the estate, etc.
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Steps involved in the probate process
1. Finding the will
The first step after the testator dies is for the executor to file the decedent’s will alongside their death certificate and take it to the probate court for the process to officially commence. The executor can get the will by checking in with the family or getting help from a probate attorney.
2. Filing the probate petition
Probate officially begins when the executor files the probate petition to the court. They do this by filing the will and death certificate alongside a written petition to commence probate. Once the court accepts it, the estate is declared “open”. The executor will then be given a document known as Letters Testamentary, authorizing them to settle the estate. If it is an estate administrator, then the document given is Letters of Administration.
3. Inventorying the decedent’s assets and documents
The next step is to take inventory of all that the decedent owned. This is its entirety is what is referred to as their estate. The executor has to locate each asset and identify how they’re owned. This involves getting a hold of all his documents, personal papers, bank account statements, and any document they can lay hands on. In there, they should be able to determine the existence of investments, life insurance, bonds, shares, and any property the decedent owned at the time of death.
4. Valuating the estate and opening a checking account
The executor then has to estimate the total value of the estate. They may choose to call a financial expert to do the assessment to avoid errors. They also have to open a checking account from which they are to pay all probate expenses. Yes, all your expenses during probate must come from the estate and not the executor’s purse.
5. Filing tax returns and settling estate tax
Next, they have to file the tax return forms and pay any income and estate tax on the estate. They may have to consult a probate attorney to determine if the estate is subject to any tax and how to go about settling them.
6. Settling creditors and funeral expenses
After settling tax, the next thing to settle is debts and final expenses. People will come claiming to be creditors of the deceased, and it’s the executor’s job to figure out what claim is legitimate. It’s advisable hiring an experienced probate attorney for professional guidance.
7. Distributing the assets
After all debts and financial obligations have been settled, the executor must then proceed to distributing the estate’s left-over to the beneficiaries. Before doing so, they need to get approval from the court by submitting a record of all the transactions they’ve made from the estate. If their accounting is accepted, they will get approval.
If there is a will, they have to follow the instructions in disbursing the estate. In the absence of one, the state’s law of intestate succession will apply.