How to Honor a Legal Will

by John Cromwell

The process of honoring a will is defined by the probate code of the state where the decedent lived. Each state drafts its own probate code, so standards may vary. However most state laws regarding wills are based on the Uniform Probate Code. Therefore, the UPC provides a good framework for discussing how to honor a legal will in general. If you are trying to honor a legal will, check the probate code of the appropriate state to ensure you are complying with the correct standards.

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Step 1

Obtain a copy of the most up-to-date and complete will. Over the duration of a person’s life, a person may have acquired and distributed significant property that would be included in the will. Marriages, divorces, births and deaths may have changed who would be a beneficiary. Due to these changes, the decedent may have made multiple amendments to the will in separate documents, called codicils, that are to be included in the will. The decedent may have also drafted multiple versions of the will. Be sure the will you want to honor is the most recent version and contains all codicils.

Step 2

Ensure the will is properly executed. Generally, a valid will must be composed by someone over the age of 18 who is of sound mind. It must be written and signed by the drafter in the presence of witnesses. The witness requirement can generally be satisfied by signing the will in the presence of two people who also sign the will. Another possible method is to sign the will in the presence of a notary public, who then signs the will and affixes her seal.

Step 3

Present the will to the appropriate probate court. The state where the decedent was living prior to death has jurisdiction over the estate. Prepare a petition for the appropriate probate court, requesting the court admit the will for the decedent’s estate. Submit the will, along with the decedent’s death certificate and your petition, to the clerk of the court. The court will review the will and decide whether the will should be used for distributing the decedent’s estate.

Step 4

Follow the terms of the will when distributing the decedent’s assets. Your responsibility to honor the will continues only if you are named executor. If you are selected, you must first pay off all of the decedent’s outstanding debts prior to making any distributions. Once that is complete, comply with the terms of the will as best you can, given what assets remain after paying off all of the outstanding liabilities.