Beneficiaries of a last will and testament must be notified.
Your loved one has recently passed away.
You think he signed a last will prior to death.
You think you might be a beneficiary.
You do not know whether such last will actually exists and, if it does, its contents.
Will you be notified?
According to a recent Investopedia article titled “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified,” the last will must first be filed with the probate court.
The decedent’s heirs, legatees, and devisees are mailed a copy of the last will as part of filing it with the court.
Oh, about the “filing” itself, there is a time requirement and states vary on its length.
For example, the last will of a Kansas decedent must be filed with the probate court within six months of death, but for a Missouri decedent it must be done within one year.
If a last will is recorded out of time, then the last will is invalid.
It is dead.
When the last will is filed with the probate court, it becomes a matter of public record.
What does this mean?
Anyone can get a copy and, as a result, find out details in the last will and testament, to include those who are (and who are not) listed as beneficiaries.
Consequently, if you are a “loved one” of the decedent, but not sure you are an “heir, legatee or devisee,” then you may obtain a copy from the court to find out.
After the judge has examined the last will, determined its validity, appointed the executor, and issued “letters testamentary” to empower the executor, the judge orders the executor to inventory the assets.
The inventory is a matter of public record, too.
While all of this is going on, notice to creditors is published in the legal notice section of a local newspaper of record for three consecutive weeks.
Actual notice must be given to known creditors or those that may be readily ascertained.
Once this is done, creditors are paid from the estate.
The remainder of the estate is distributed to the beneficiaries upon approval of the “final settlement” by the probate judge after the “claims” period runs out.
As you may expect, the claims period varies by state.
If assets are passed outside of probate, there is no legal requirement for formal notification of any heirs, legatees, and devisees .
If you do not have a last will in place, you should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to get your affairs in order.
Reference: Investopedia (Nov. 21, 2019) “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified”