Your loved one has passed away and you have found his or her estate plan in the process of packing up their home. Now what do you do? Find out what to do with a Last Will and Testament after a loved one dies and how an estate administration attorney can help ease you through the probate process.
A Last Will and Testament Can Guide Your Choices After a Loved One Dies
When a loved one dies, it is naturally a very emotional time. There are many things to consider, and you may not know where to focus first. A Last Will and Testament and other documents in the person’s estate plan may be an instruction manual to distributing a person’s estate. If you are able to locate your family member’s estate plan, you can use it to guide you through the choices you need to make in those first days, including:
Which mortuary or funeral home to send the body to
Who should take care of the person’s children, adult dependents, and pets
Deciding whether a person’s body should be preserved or prepared for cremation
Planning the funeral or memorial service
Finding Your Family Member’s Last Will and Testament
However, it isn’t always easy to find a loved one’s will. At Harrison Estate Law, part of our work in estate planning includes a family meeting where our clients and their loved ones make plans for where the estate plan will be kept and what is included. However, even with those preparations, sometimes Wills get lost along the way.
A person’s final years often include one or more moves into assisted living facilities or a relative caregiver’s home. In other cases, a loved one may have been accumulating documents and property for decades. After your loved one dies, it may be up to you to sort through the boxes or closets to find their Last Will and Testament and start the process of distributing their assets. Common places to look for a Will can include a:
Fire-proof box in a closet or storage unit
Safety deposit box
Safety deposit boxes can pose a special challenge to family members trying to put their hands on a Last Will and Testament after a person has died. Legally, the bank is supposed to give you access to your loved one’s safety deposit box to remove the original Will when you show the teller or manager the death certificate. But many bank personnel don’t realize this. They may refuse to allow you access. When that happens, an estate administration attorney can help you get a court order to open the box and get the documents you need.
Once you have a copy of the Will, you may think you are all set, but it turns out photocopies of a Will can create problems in the probate court when someone challenges whether that Will had been replaced or revoked by the testator (the person who created it) after the fact. That is why it is always best to get an original version before heading to court. If you can only find a copy, your estate administration attorney may be able to reach out to the lawyer who drafted the estate plan to find a duplicate original for you or go through the procedure necessary to use a copy before the Court.
Starting the Probate Process
The Last Will and Testament is sometimes called the “key to probate court.” Not all of a person’s assets need to go through probate court, but if your loved one died with houses, cars, bank accounts, and other property held solely in their name, with no beneficiaries designated (and not in a trust), you will need to work through the probate court to legally transfer those assets to the deceased person’s heirs or beneficiaries.
Your estate administration attorney will help you review your loved one’s estate plan and identify “probate assets”. Then they will take the Last Will and Testament to the probate court in the county where the person lived to start the probate case. Then the probate judge will appoint a Personal Representative (usually the person named in the Will) to carry out your loved one’s instructions, pay off their final expenses, and distribute their assets to their intended beneficiaries.
Depending on the size of your loved one’s estate, and the issues involved, your estate administration attorney may be able to help decide if formal or summary probate will be needed, and comply with all the court’s requirements to complete the probate process. This will include notifying creditors and beneficiaries, establishing the value of assets, paying off certain debts and obligations, selling property, and reporting everything back to the probate court.
The Florida probate process isn’t always easy for grieving loved ones to handle. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. By contacting an estate administration attorney as soon as you can after a loved one dies, you can take several responsibilities off your plate. At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced estate and probate team can help use your loved one’s Last Will and Testament to make important end-of-life decisions and start the probate process. We will help you be sure your loved one’s wishes are honored and affairs are handled. Contact us here or call 352-559-9828 to get help today.