Unfortunately, too many people don’t take estate planning seriously. They assume they’ll “get to it tomorrow,” and then tomorrow never comes. These same people, if they have children or surviving family members, will leave those heirs dealing with the possibility of a lengthy probate proceeding or litigation.
So, what should you do if your parent died and you don’t think they had a will? There are some steps you can take that might make the process easier, even if you do end up going through probate in the end.
What to do
- Look for a will – just because you aren’t aware of the existence of an estate plan doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Check through your loved one’s financial documents, tax records, safe, filing cabinet, etc., to see if a will is amongst their belongings.
- Check for indications that a lawyer was consulted or hired – an attorney’s business card or a letter from a law firm could be an indication that a will was drafted that is on file with the attorney. If so, this will could be administered, possibly without the need for contested, lengthy probate proceedings.
- Is there a safety deposit box? – if so, there’s a good chance a will or other estate planning documents are inside. Follow state and banking institution guidelines for how to get to the contents of the box to look for a will.
- Gather any and all financial documentation you can find – this includes anything relevant, from tax records to checking account statements, and the home title to retirement fund information. Without a will, these will help value and probate the estate.
- Consult a probate attorney – an experienced estate planning attorney can help not only with drafting an estate plan before death, but with administering an estate after a loved one passes away. Having a lawyer by your side will make the process go smoother and will alleviate the stress of handling the technicalities and nuances of probate law while still grieving.