Although we counsel all of our clients on how to avoid probate, going through probate might be the best option for some families. Not to mention that things can change--You wouldn’t believe the number of bank accounts that lost their beneficiary designations when the banks got bought out or implemented new software. We know it’s frustrating and stressful, but our team is experienced in being the light at the end of the probate tunnel.
Of course, you should always speak with a licensed attorney before making any decisions regarding your dearly departed’s worldly possessions. We know it can feel helpful to get the ball rolling, and waiting for an attorney’s schedule to open up is the last thing you want to do, but trust us, there’s no reason to rush the probate process. Take your time, gather yourself, and start speaking to an attorney once the dust has settled and you have the death certificate of your loved one.
If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you or someone you love might be preparing to go through the probate process, or maybe probate is something you’ve never heard of before, but you’re sitting down with a Will in front of you —so let us first express our condolences. Whether someone has already died, or you’re trying to keep busy and stay ahead of the chaos, we know it’s not an easy time. Our team is very familiar with probate and ready to support you from start to finish.
When the word “probate” comes into your daily life, it’s not uncommon to have more questions than answers. Let’s look at some of the most frequently asked questions together:
Someone I love just died, what’s the first thing I need to do?Take a deep breath and grieve. We know things can feel like they’re falling apart, but there’s no need to scramble at this time. It actually takes about 4-6 months to determine if probate is actually needed or not.
Probate is the legal process that distributes a decedent’s estate (think bank accounts, home, pensions, etc.) to their rightful recipients. Some folks plan diligently to avoid probate—and their work comes as a great relief for the next generation. Due to the nature of direct deposits and automatic withdraws, it could take a few months to discover if there is an asset you cannot access.
What’s something I should NOT do right away?Despite what many people believe, you should NOT immediately close bank accounts. But if you really feel like you need to take action, you have a few options, you can…
- Stop automatic drafts like any subscriptions or steaming services, health insurance, energy or gas bills, etc.
- Call credit card companies, notifying them of the death in order to freeze accounts and avoid fraud.
- Contact all income sources (i.e. pensions, SSI, etc.) so that direct deposits cease and you potentially avoid refunding these institutions.
- Notify financial institutions that your loved one has passed, but again, do not close the accounts. Simply notifying the institutions will begin their internal processes of checking if any beneficiaries were designated on accounts or letting you know what they need to release the funds in said accounts. Typically, what financial institutions need is Letters Testementary, which you would receive at the end of the probate process.
Why can’t I close the bank accounts?There are a few reasons, we advise against this, but ultimately, if refunds need to be made or funerals need to be paid for, it is easier to accomplish these tasks if an account with your loved one’s name is still open.
Please note that a Durable Power of Attorney document is only valid while the person granting those powers is still alive. At this point in time, only the Executor named in the Will, or a co-owner would be able to handle any of these tasks.
What if my loved one died without a Will?The legal term for this is “intestacy,” and in this case, your loved one’s estate will be distributed according to State Laws.
What do I need to start the Probate process?You will need to gather the following documents:
- Original Will (we can work with a copy, but the original requires fewer steps).
- Death certificate
- List of assets
So how long does the probate process take?
It depends…probate has very specific instructions that we will help you navigate. Probate can take anywhere from 6-12 months or sometimes even longer. This means that if anyone is expecting to receive any money from the decedent, it will take as long as the probate process takes.
We hope this article has helped guide you in the right direction in a time where things might feel directionless. We know this isn’t an easy process, but we’ll be here for you every single step of the way.