In Alabama, wills are ordinarily probated in the probate court for the county where the decedent resided at the time of her death. A personal representative, often referred to as the “executor” or “executrix,” will usually be the person named in the will and approved by the court to manage the affairs of the estate.
Filing of Initial Documents
In presenting a will for probate, the personal representative or his attorney provides a certified copy of the death certificate and the original will, along with any amendments, or codicils, to the probate court. The personal representative or his attorney also petitions the court for probate of the will and for issuance of Letters Testamentary, appointing him as personal representative. If all heirs and devisees -- persons who receive a gift of real property by a will -- are in agreement at the beginning of the probate process, their signed and notarized waivers reflecting their consent to probate and for the appointment of the petitioner as personal representative may be filed in lieu of a court hearing. The court may require that proposed orders be prepared for presentation to the judge for his signature. These proposed orders consist of the order admitting the will to probate and the Letters Testamentary appointing the personal representative to act. The court costs for initiating the probate process are due at the time of filing of the documents.
Publication in a Local Newspaper
The court may also request that the personal representative or her attorney provide a typewritten notice to creditors to be published in a local newspaper. As of November 2010, state law requires that notice of the probate of the will be published to give creditors notice of the death in order that they may file claims for any amounts due by the estate.
Acceptance by Probate Judge
Once the initial documents have been filed with the court, the Judge reviews them for any deficiencies or omissions. If a will has been witnessed but is not self-proving, the judge will probably require that you locate the original witnesses to the will and have him sign a Proof of Will. This document states that the person who made the will, referred to as “testator” or “testatrix,” signed the will willingly in the presence of the witnesses, and that the person was over the age of 19, was not being forced to sign the will and is of sound mind. A will may be made self-proving at its signing if the witnesses attest to those same facts in the will itself before a notary public. If all paperwork is in order, the judge will likely sign the order admitting the will to probate. The personal representative is not authorized to fully act as such representative until she receives the Letters Testamentary document signed by the Judge.
Filing the Final Documents
The final documents may be filed with the court once the personal representative disburses all of the assets, pays all debts due by the estate and fulfills the terms of the will. The final documents consist of a Petition for Final Settlement signed by the personal representative, signed and notarized final waivers by all the heirs and devisees, as well as a proposed Final Decree to be signed by the judge closing the estate and discharging the personal representative from her duties. The waivers will only be available if all heirs and devisees agree to sign, acknowledging receipt of everything due them under the estate. A final hearing may be required in the event waivers are not signed by all the heirs and devisees.