The first steps to take with the will after someone dies

3 min read

The most significant document you’ll deal with after a loved one dies is their will. Not only does it outline who should inherit their assets, it also designates an executor of the estate—the person who will be empowered to act on behalf of the estate to settle their financial and legal affairs.

Locating it and filing it in probate court in a timely fashion is the first major step on the road to settling your loved one’s affairs. (Check your state laws on the time frame; California, for instance, requires that it be filed within 30 days of your loved one’s death.)

However, since a majority of Americans die without a will, if your loved one did not leave a valid will that is ready to file, you are not alone.

The articles below outline the different problems you may face and the different ways you can solve them, so that you can honor your loved one by carrying out the plans they made for the people and possessions they left behind.

Locating the will

Full article: Locating the will

At some point, likely soon after your loved one’s funeral, you or someone in the family will have to find the will. If tracking it down requires some digging, it’s not uncommon to encounter some emotional challenges along the way.

Making sure it is valid

Wills are filed in probate court so that a judge can verify their validity. You can make sure the legal standards have been met by double-checking that the witnesses to the will meet several criteria.

Full article: Witnesses to a will

What to do if there is no will

When someone dies “intestate,” or without a will, there are no designated beneficiaries or an executor to take charge—so the courts will step in distribute the estate based on state inheritance laws. Without a will, much of that process is out of your hands, but taking certain actions now can bring clarity and sanity to the process.

Full article: Immediate steps to take if your loved one did not have a will

If there are multiple versions of the will

When there is more than one will, the most recent one takes precedence. Confusion and uncertainty are common in this situation, though, and it is important extend understanding and compassion to family members who have questions or may even contest the will.

Full article: Which will: What to do if your loved one left multiple wills

If your loved one left a handwritten will

Occasionally, a will is completely handwritten without the help of a lawyer and is not officially witnessed. This is also known as a holographic will, and it can be valid in some states and some circumstances.

Full article: What is a holographic will?

Family, inheritance, and keeping the peace

When the will picks favorites, underlying family conflicts can escalate quickly. There are a few things to keep in mind that can help your family navigate these challenges.

Full article: Family, inheritance, and keeping the peace