How to Register a Last Will & Testament

By Christine Funk, J.D.

How to Register a Last Will & Testament

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Your last will and testament is critical to your estate plan. Registering your will with your local probate court or county office provides a public record of your wishes for the distribution of your property after you pass away. However, you must know how and when to register your will.

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Read on to understand the benefits of registering your will while you're alive. Also, learn what happens if you choose not to register your will while you're alive and what deadlines are enforced by the courts.

Registering a Will Before Death

You're not required to register your will while you're alive. Furthermore, registration does not make your will valid and enforceable — the lawfulness of a will is determined by a probate court after the testator's death. However, registering your will allows you to create a public record of your wishes for your assets, permits you to safeguard and store your will safely, and helps your loved ones locate your will after you pass away.

To register a will before your death, check your state laws as registration differs from state to state. Secondly, check the rules at your local courts. You can file your will at your county clerk's office, the local probate court, or both. Also, check to see if you must submit a filing fee.

Even though your will is now a filed public record, it typically remains private until after your death. Unless you have given permission, no one will be provided access to your registered will while you're alive.

Registering a Will After Death

After your death, your loved ones will need to locate your will. If you've registered it while alive, it's easier to find. If not, then your family will need to check your safe deposit boxes, your home safe, or with your attorney to locate your will.

Once it is found, your appointed executor or an attorney will file a certified copy of your will at the local probate court with the applicable filing fee. Once your will is registered, the court determines its lawfulness. After the court establishes validity, then your executor or the attorney will begin distributing the assets to your beneficiaries.

Upon death, if you have property in more than one state, then your executor or an attorney will need to register your will in each applicable state. Your loved ones may need to hire an attorney in each state to record your will.

Adhering to State Deadlines

Check the rules in your state about when to file a will. Many states have adopted standards similar to those in the Uniform Probate Code, which is a code drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) governing wills and estates. You can call your local probate court to get a list of the deadlines, or you can hire an experienced attorney to help you navigate the process.

If you're filing a will before death, you may not have many, or any, deadlines to follow. However, when a will is registered after the testator's death, each state has various deadlines that must be satisfied. Typically, your family can record your will three to six years after your death. This is another benefit of registering your will before death as the probate process will begin automatically after your death, removing the stress of meeting deadlines for your family members.

Notifying Loved Ones of Your Will's Location

No matter when you choose to register your will, you should make sure that your loved ones and any interested parties know about the location of your will. If you registered your will before death, let your family know. If you plan on keeping your will, or a copy of your will, in a safe deposit box or a home safe, make sure your family has keys or the combination. Providing this information will make registering your will after your death more straightforward.

Since estate planning law is complicated, you may have questions about the best way to secure your legacy. Consult an attorney or use an online service provider for answers. By receiving additional guidance, you'll be able to make sound decisions that will affect both you and your loved ones.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.