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Wills and Probate
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How To File A Will

How To File A Will

A decedent's will must be filed in the local probate court if the estate is of a significant size and value, above the estate value thresholds set forth in state law. Some estate assets are exempt from having to go through probate and administration in its court. These assets include life insurance benefits, estate property that is held jointly between the decedent and his/her spouse, estate property that is held jointly with the decedent and any child, and property placed in a living trust.

The probate court will make a determination as to the validity of the decedent's will, and the estate assets can be transferred and gifted according to the decedent's wishes, if the court finds the will valid. The types of assets that are subject to this layer of court oversight are large amounts of money, property owned solely by the decedent, cars, boats, planes, jewelry, furniture, art and similar high-value property.

Filing a Will with Probate Court

The personal representative, or executor, charged with administration of the estate will want to know how to file the decedent's will with the probate court (if required) after the latter's death. These are the basic steps for filing a will with the probate court:

  1. Contact the decedent's attorney, if any, and the will's executor if you are not that party.
  2. Make a determination with the help of decedent's counsel, if any, whether the will needs to be filed in probate court according to state law thresholds. If there are a large amount of valuable assets, such as jewelry, cars, furniture, art, and property outside of living trusts or joint ownership status, probate court estate administration may be required.
  3. Get a copy of the will from the decedent's counsel or estate, making sure the copy is certified.
  4. Get a copy of the decedent's death certificate (certified copy).
  5. File the copies of the will and death certificate with the local probate court in the county where the decedent resided at the time of his/her death. File the copies with the clerk of the probate court. Note: In some localities, the probate court is called a surrogate court.
  6. Request a hearing date and time for the probate court to make a determination as to the validity of the will. The court's docket (calendar) may be so clogged and backlogged that it may take days or weeks just to get this hearing date, so don't delay in making the call.
  7. Contact the parties named as beneficiaries in the will, alert them to the hearing date and time, and update them on any developments.
  8. Attend the hearing on the will's validity in probate court.