When Should Wills Be Filed After Death?

By A.L. Kennedy

A will should be filed after death before the deadline set by your state's law. Often, these deadlines are several years after the date of death. By filing the will as soon as possible after a death, however, you may be able to substantially speed up the probate process. Consult an attorney in your state if you have questions about specific deadlines.


Most states only allow wills to be filed with a probate court for a certain amount of time after the death of the person who made the will, also known as the testator. These deadlines usually occur five or six years after the testator's death. After this time, the probate court will not accept a will, and distribute the testator's property according to the state's laws for people who die without making a will. Courts use these deadlines out of concern that a will that has waited that long for probate may be a forgery or be invalid in some other way.

Limitations and Penalties

Many probate courts have shorter limitation periods in which the will should be filed for probate. For instance, the state of Connecticut requires the person who has the original will either to file it with the probate court or to give it to the estate's executor to be filed within 30 days of the testator's death. If someone who has the will refuses to file it in time, he may face criminal penalties for stalling. The 30-day period is designed to keep the probate process moving quickly and smoothly.

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Benefits of Filing Early

Filing the will as soon as possible after death and opening the probate estate quickly offer several benefits. For example, even brief probate cases take several months to complete, because the executor must allow the amount of time required by law for creditors to contact the estate. Since assets cannot be given out of the estate until all these deadlines have passed, filing the will soon after death brings the deadlines to a close more quickly and allows the beneficiaries to receive their share of the remaining assets that much sooner.

Will Contests

A will contest is a lawsuit that claims the will is not valid for some reason. Usually, the will contest seeks to prove that the testator was not mentally capable of making a will or that the testator made the will under threat of force, coercion, or because he was tricked. A will contest can extend probate for months or even years, depending on how complicated the claims are and whether or not the losing party appeals. Starting probate early helps get will contests over with so that the estate can be resolved.

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