Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult in itself, but it can be complicated when they don't leave a will behind. Wills are essential to protecting what your parent has accumulated over the year in terms of assets and to give guidance on what your loved one wants to see happen following their death.
If you don't think that your mom or dad had a will before they passed away, it's important to take a few steps to protect the estate. Here's more on what to do next.
1. Search carefully for the will
The first thing you should do is make a serious effort at trying to find the will. You can contact the firm of your parent's attorney to ask if there is one on file from any point in their interactions. You can look through your parent's house and check with the bank to see if there is a safe deposit box. No will has an expiration date, so if you find anything, it can be helpful.
2. Talk to an attorney
The next step is to talk to an attorney about what you have or do not have, so that you know the best way to proceed with the estate. Remember, it's up to you to decide on which attorney you want to use. You aren't required to use the attorney who drafted a will or an attorney your parents previously worked with. If there is no will, you'll want the guidance of an attorney who is familiar with the probate process and the best ways to protect the assets that are available.
3. Learn about the probate process
If there is no will to rely on, then probate may be the only option. A judge will be in control of much of what happens next. It's in your best interests to have an attorney at these hearings as the judge appoints trustees and advocates for the estate.
Most of the time, the estate will be distributed in accordance with state laws as they are at the time of the court appearance. There are some items, like insurance policies or bank accounts, that may have designated beneficiaries, which the court will recognize.
There's much to do after a loved one passes away, and this is just the tip of what you can expect. Your Allentown-based attorney can give you more information on your role if there is no will.