#1 - Locate and Read the Decedent's Last Will and Testament.If you know that the decedent made a Last Will and Testament, find it and read it. If not, move on to step #3.
#2 - Make a Complete List of the Benficiaries and Fiduciaries Named in the Will.This list should be as complete as possible and include names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, and email addresses. If you know that an initial beneficiary or fiduciary is deceased, obtain an original death certificate.
#3 - Make a Complete List of the Decedent's Assets.This list should include everything that the decedent owned, from cash and investments, to jewelry and other personal effects, to furniture and collectibles, to cars and boats, to life insurance, to retirement accounts, to business interests, to real estate.
#4 - Make a Complete List of the Decedent's Liabilities.This list should include everyone the decedent owed money to, including mortgages, personal loans, utilities, credit cards, and medical bills.
#5 - Meet With an Estate Lawyer.
The beneficiaries and fiduciaries named in the decedent's Last Will and Testamnt, or, if the decedent didn't have a Last Will, then all of the decedent's heirs at law
, should plan to attend the first meeting with the estate lawyer either in person or by telephone.
#6 - Review and Sign the Documents Required to Open the Probate Estate.Each state and even each county within a state has different requirements with regard to what legal documents will be necessary to officially open the estate with the probate court. That's why it's important to meet with an estate lawyer who understands all of the local probate rules.
#7 - Wait to Hear from the Estate Lawyer.Once all of the appropriate legal paperwork is filed with the probate court, you'll have to wait until the probate judge has had time to review the file and either sign the appropriate orders or ask for additional information or documentation.
#8 - Provide Certified Copies of Probate Orders to All Financial Institutions.
Once the probate judge has signed all of the appropriate probate orders, you'll need to provide copies of them to all of the financial institutions where the decedent's assets are located. You'll also need to provide copies to utility companies in order to change the utility accounts into the name of the estate. While these 8 steps may seem overwhelming, this is only the precursor to the probate and estate settlement process. The real work begins after the Personal Representative/Executor has been appointed:
Duties and Responsibilities of a Personal Representative
Step by Step Guide to Probating an Estate