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Step by Step Guide to Opening a Probate Estate

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Locate and Read the Decedent's Last Will and Testament

In general, there are eight steps that should be followed in order to open a probate estate with the appropriate state court, but some of the steps can be skipped if the decedent didn't leave a Last Will and Testament or left a pile of papers to sort through.

After someone dies, if the family knows that the decedent made a Last Will and Testament, then the first thing that should be done is to locate and read the original will.

When reading the will, make notes about the following - special instructions regarding the decedent's funeral, cremation or burial; who gets the decedent's personal effects; who gets any specific bequests; who gets the decedent's residuary estate; who is named as the Personal Representative/Executor, Trustee of any trusts created under the will, and Guardian/Conservator for any minor children of the decedent; the date and location where the will was signed; and who signed the Will as witnesses and Notary Public. The original will should then be stored in a safe location until it can be given to the estate settlement lawyer. Steps 2, 3 and 4 should then be completed and an appointment should be made for Step 5.

Hopefully someone in the family has been told where the original Last Will and Testament is being stored because it's assumed that if an original will can't be found, then the Testator decided to revoke it prior to death:

If the original will can't be found and it's suspected that the decedent stored it in a safe deposit box, then skip Step 2, complete Steps 3 and 4, and make an appointment for Step 5.

What To Do If the Decedent Didn't Make a Will

If the decedent didn't make a Last Will and Testament, then skip to Steps 3 and 4 and make an appointment for Step 5.

Probate Checklist - 8 Steps to Opening a Probate Estate
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