The time period following the loss of a loved one can be very stressful and confusing. Trying to figure out the practical steps that need to be taken in the midst of the grief you are experiencing can be overwhelming. If you were entrusted with an original, signed copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament you undoubtedly realize you are supposed to do something with the Will, but you may not know exactly what that is. The New Hampshire probate attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices explain what to do with the Will following the death of the Testator.
Are You the Executor?
One of the first steps that should be taken anytime there is a death is to determine who the Executor of the estate is, if the decedent appointed one. If a Will was located, the Executor will be named in that Will. If you are the named Executor, it means you have numerous duties and responsibilities ahead of you that are associated with that job. If you are not the person named as the Executor in the Will, you need to contact the Executor and arrange to hand over the Will you uncovered.
Requesting a Certified Death Certificate
You will need to submit the decedent’s Will to the appropriate court to initiate the probate of the estate; however, when you do that you must submit a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate at the same time. Therefore, the next step you need to take is to obtain that death certificate. In New Hampshire, you may request a certified death certificate by mail or in person by filling out an application which can be accessed on the New Hampshire Department of State, Division of Vital Records Administration website.
Submitting the Will for Probate
Once you have the certified death certificate you are ready to submit the Will for probate. You may need to prepare a petition to open probate to go along with the Will and the death certificate. By law, you only have 30 days from the date of death to submit the Will for probate. Probate will occur in the Probate Court in the county wherein the decedent was a resident at the time of his/her death.
Do I Need an Attorney?
Although there is no legal requirement that an Executor be represented by an attorney in New Hampshire during the probate process, most Executors do retain an attorney for several reasons. Probating even a relatively modest and uncomplicated estate can be time-consuming and stressful for an Executor trying to do it pro se (without legal representation). Probating an estate can also involve a number of legal and financial issues with which the average person is unfamiliar. Retaining an experienced probate attorney not only eliminates the chance that you will make a costly mistake, but it allows you the time to focus on grieving the loss of your loved one.
What Happens after the Will Is Submitted to Probate?
Shortly after the Will is submitted to the appropriate court, beneficiaries, heirs of the estate, and creditors must be notified that the probate process is underway. One of the jobs of the court is to authenticate the Will submitted for probate. Any “interested person” can file a Will contest though. Alleging that the Will is invalid for several allowable legal grounds. If that happens, the claim must be litigated. If no one contests the validity of the Will, probate will proceed, at the end of which any remaining assets will be distributed to the named beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate according to the terms of the Will. If the Will is contested, and ultimately declared invalid, the court must look for another valid Will. If none exists, the New Hampshire intestate succession rules will dictate how the estate is distributed. If the Will is found to be valid, probate proceeds using the terms of that Will to distribute the estate assets as if the Will contest never occurred.
Contact Londonderry Probate Attorneys
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions about how to handle a Will following the death of the Testator, contact the Londonderry probate attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.