After the initial grieving process following the death of a loved one, you may be left in charge of the disposition of the deceased’s property. Although some people die intestate -- without a will -- others prefer to determine the distribution of their assets through a last will and testament. In Alabama, a will generally must be probated in the county probate court within five years from the date of death to be considered legally binding.
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Petition the court to admit the will to probate and appoint you as personal representative, or executor, of the estate provided you were named by the deceased in her will to act as such. The initial filing with the court should include the last will and testament; a certified copy of the death certificate; the petition to probate will; and a petition for letters testamentary, which give the executor authority to discharge her duties. Filing fees or court costs are ordinarily due with the initial filing. Often, the petition to probate and petition for letters testamentary will be combined into one document. These should be filed in the county where the deceased lived or owned property. The petition or petitions will set out the names, ages and residences of the all heirs and next of kin of the deceased; the names of the witnesses to the will; and the date of the death of the deceased.
Have all the heirs of the deceased sign waivers allowing you, as personal representative, to proceed with the probate of the will. In the event the heirs object or do not agree to the probate of the will, the judge will set a hearing and all heirs must be notified and present to voice their objections. If all heirs agree, in lieu of a hearing, their signed and notarized waivers may be filed with the initial probate petitions and death certificate. If a hearing is held, the judge will decide whether the objections of the heirs are substantive and should be considered. If no valid objections are made or if waivers are signed agreeing to probate, the judge will grant letters testamentary to you, as personal representative, and probate will proceed.
Publish notice in a local newspaper to all unknown creditors of the estate and mail letters to all known creditors. Creditors or claimants seeking payment of debts owed by the deceased will generally have six months from the date letters testamentary are issued to make a claim against the estate for those debts. In the event they do not make a claim during this statutory period, then they are not allowed to collect the debts owed them by the estate.
Petition the court for final settlement. Final settlement is the last step to close the probate of the estate once all heirs have been given all property due them, all creditors have been paid and all assets have been dispensed according to the terms of the will. The heirs will either sign a final waiver acknowledging their receipt of all property or a final hearing will be held. You, as personal representative, will be discharged from your duties upon a decree of final settlement entered by the judge.