It’s a common misconception that some people assume if they are in possession of someone’s Will, and especially if they are the named Executor of said Will, that they can start acting immediately upon that person’s passing. This can include taking actions like removing personal property from the decedent’s home, selling vehicles or other possessions, paying bills and/or distributing property to Will beneficiaries.
However, before taking actions it is necessary for the Executor to obtain what is called a “Letter of Testamentary”. This document can only be granted by the probate court in your jurisdiction and it specifically grants authority to the Executor to formally act on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
To obtain these letters through the probate court, you will most likely need to start by hiring a licensed probate attorney in your area. While it is not required in Alabama that you engage an attorney for the purpose of probating a Will, most individuals find it nearly impossible to navigate the probate process without legal guidance.
In addition to the original Last Will and Testament of the decedent, you will need a death certificate and a number of required forms the probate court will request. This is where having a licensed (and seasoned) probate attorney will provide you the most help. Once you petition the court to probate the estate and grant you Letters of Testamentary, the court will set a hearing to validate the will and assess your capacity to serve as the Executor.
So what if your loved one passed away without a Will, but instead, had a Trust that provided for the distribution of their assets upon death? In that case, you would not need to obtain Letters of Testamentary or interact with the court at all. In fact, a Trust administration avoids the entire probate process, which is a huge advantage to establishing a trust in the first place.
To learn more about Estate Planning and the Probate Process, call our office today and schedule your appointment. (251) 621-1555