Last month we talked about the legal process about what happens if you do not have a will. But what do you actually do when you lose a parent and they passed without a will? How do you gain access to their assets and determine who should get them?
The first step is gathering a list of your parent’s assets, financial statements, and tax records. Financial statements often indicate ownership of the account. If an account has a joint owner listed or has a POD, payable on death, then that asset will transfer to the person named and will not need to be probated. If you locate their car title it may also list a joint owner or a TOD, transfer on death. Again, if a joint owner or TOD was listed, this asset would avoid probate and can be transferred without the probate court and without a will.
If all of the assets you locate have a joint owner or a beneficiary designation, you will not need to go through probate. However, if you find assets that did not have a joint owner or a beneficiary designation, you may petition the court to open a probate estate to handle those assets. In that situation the beneficiaries would be determined by the state intestate law of the state where your parent died or owned property.
If you will have to probate assets and you have siblings, you may want to try to agree on the person you want to be “in charge” of your parent’s estate. That person would be the one to hire an attorney and petition the court to open a probate estate. You will want to hire an attorney that practices in the county and state where your parent died or where they owned property. The attorney will be able to assist you in getting the court to appoint you as personal representative or administrator of the estate. Your attorney will be able to determine which probate process will be needed based on the circumstances. Keep in mind, that in some counties, only an attorney may file a petition with the probate court.
To open a probate case, you will need the full legal name, address, date of birth, and social security number of each of the heirs. Your attorney will also need to know what assets are to be probated and the value of those assets. A copy of the death certificate will also be required when your attorney files the petition. If you have all this information gathered when you meet with your attorney, it will help get the process started sooner. Once your attorney has met with you to determine which probate process is appropriate, they will be able to walk you through the rest of the probate process and let you know what to expect.