Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a lawyer to file (or probate) a will. Will the probate process be easier with a lawyer? Maybe. Will it be more expensive? Yes. There may come a point where you need a probate attorney to handle a specific issue, but in most cases, they’re not needed throughout the entire process.
In this step-by-step guide, we’ll discuss the probate process so you know how to file a will without a lawyer.
Step 1. Locate the Most Recent Will
When you want to file a will with the court, it’s important to have a current will. If the testator (the person who created the will) used a lawyer to draft their will, contact their office to confirm that what you have is up to date. You can also check with The U.S. Will Registry to see if another will was added to the database.
Step 2. File Probate Petition
Probate courts typically have their own set of probate forms that you need to complete and file to start the probate process. Often the court’s website provides detailed instructions on how to fill out the documents. You can also call the court clerk’s office if you have questions about the forms.
Generally, the forms require basic information about the decedent and ask questions about your qualifications to serve as the estate’s representative. You also have to include the testator’s will, if any, and death certificate. If you need help locating the will, contact The U.S. Will Registry.
Step 3. Notify Heirs and Creditors
Next, you need to notify any heirs and creditors of the decedent’s death. Heirs are anyone eligible to inherit something from the estate.
Each state has its own notification requirements and timelines for creditors to file claims against the estate.
Step 4. Inventory and Appraise Decedent’s Assets
Taking an inventory of the decedent’s assets is likely the most time-consuming step in the probate process. As the executor, you have to prepare and file an inventory form with the probate court that has the starting value of the estate.
This step also requires that you look through the will and determine what assets, if any, have to be distributed to specific people. Throughout the inventory process, you also have to keep detailed records of all transactions involving the estate, such as assets sold and income received.
Step 5. Pay Estate Debts and Taxes
Once the deadline passes for creditors to file their claim against the estate, the executor must pay off all estate debts. This includes anything from the decedent’s credit card bills to personal income taxes.
After making those payments, you need to create a final accounting for the court. This shows the remaining amount that you’ll distribute to the heirs or beneficiaries.
Step 6. Distribute the Estate
The probate court must approve the final accounting before you make any distributions.
Let The U.S. Registry Help You Find a Will
Now that you know the basic steps of how to file a will without a lawyer, get started on the process by checking with The U.S. Will Registry. Our database has information on millions of registered wills dating all the way back to 1967. Let us help you feel confident knowing you have the final version of your loved one’s last wishes.