What to Do With a Will After a Death

By Laura Wallace Henderson

Wills provide written documentation of the will maker's -- also called testator -- final wishes. Upon the death of the testator, the will undergoes a formal legal process known as probate. Probate helps determine the validity of the will and oversees the process of carrying out its directives. The person responsible for taking the will through probate is called an executor.


When writing a will, an individual can name a person or group of people to supervise the actions of administering the estate. After the death of the testator, the executor or administrator must locate the will and present it to the local probate court along with a certified copy of the testator’s death certificate. Whoever has possession of the will must submit it to the executor of the estate, or submit it directly to the probate court within the period allotted by the state.


The probate process officially begins when the will is submitted to the court. The court officially appoints an executor -- normally the individual named in the will -- to administer the estate, and supplies legal documents known as letters testamentary, or letters of administration, allowing the executor to take control of the testator’s probate property. Items that don’t go through probate can include joint property and insurance or retirement accounts that pass directly to named beneficiaries.

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Other executor actions often include supplying the court with the names and addresses of the testator’s surviving spouse, children and other beneficiaries, creating an inventory of assets, and paying any debts or taxes on behalf of the estate. Once the court permits to do so, the executor distributes the assets and personal belongings in accordance with the directives in the will.


Because acting as an executor can be time-consuming and difficult, the executor has the right to hire professionals at the expense of the estate. These include attorneys, accountants and real estate agents, for example. The probate court may also offer information to the executor regarding the standard probate procedures.

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