After the funeral and burial have been arranged, consider making a list of the assets of the deceased family member prior to meeting with your attorney. When making this list of assets in the estate, be sure to indicate: 1) how each asset is titled; 2) who is the named beneficiary (if the asset is life insurance, a retirement plan, an annuity, or a bank account listing a pay on death beneficiary); and 3) the value of the asset. Knowing this information will help you and the attorney determine whether the Will requires probate, as probate may be avoided if all assets pass directly to beneficiaries or if the assets are owned by a trust. In addition, the attorney will be able to more accurately estimate the cost of administration. Finally, the attorney will be able to determine if the estate should file a federal estate tax return.
Bring a copy of the Death Certificate.
While the attorney may begin the probate process without a copy of the decedent's death certificate, the death certificate will provide the attorney with valuable information.
Find and review the Last Will and Testament and other estate planning documents.
Before you meet with the attorney, find and review the deceased family member's Last Will and Testament. Determine from reading the Will who the named executor is and make sure that the executor is present at the meeting with the attorney, as the attorney will be representing the executor, not the beneficiaries. Also, if the decedent left more than one Will or left a codicil, the attorney will need those documents as well. The attorney will need to file the original Will and codicil(s) with the court; so it is helpful to bring the original documents. If the original Will cannot be located, bring a copy of the Will to the meeting.
What if the Decedent failed to leave a will?
Frequently, the decedent fails to leave a Will, especially if the decedent was young or the death was sudden. When a person dies without a Will, they die "intestate." If this happens, your attorney will need to know the answers to the following questions about the deceased family member:
o Was the decedent married?
o If yes, to whom?
o Was the decedent ever divorced?
o If yes, from whom and where?
o What are the names, birth dates, and addresses of the decedent's children, if any?
o Are all of the decedent's children also the children of the decedent's spouse?
Locate witnesses if the Decedent failed to leave a will.
Also, if the Decedent failed to leave a Will, the attorney will need the names and contact information of two witnesses. The witnesses will need to testify that they knew the Decedent during his child bearing years and was well acquainted with the family history of the Decedent. The witnesses you choose will have to either appear in court if they are able or answer written questions prepared by the attorney. The witnesses may be related to the Decedent but they may not be entitled to any part of the Decedent's estate.
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