When you write a Will, assuming you are at least 18 years old, of sound mind, and covered all the other legal requirements to create a valid Will, it is considered “executed” at the time you sign it. This means that it is “good” indefinitely unless you change it or revoke it. To be legally effective, a Will must be probated within five years of the date of the testator’s death. While you don’t legally have to probate a Will in Alabama, it is often advisable if there are numerous beneficiaries and/or claims upon the estate. And you should probate a Will if you want it to have legal authority.
At the moment a person dies, the most recent version of their Will becomes the official document the courts look to for guidance as to what the testator (i.e., the deceased) wanted done with their belongings. For a Will to be valid in Alabama, it should be in writing, signed by the person making it (i.e. the testator) or someone in the testator’s presence and under his or her direction, and attested to by at least two witnesses who sign their names in the presence of the testator. The testator must be mentally competent and at least 18 years old. Some states allow handwritten wills (called “holographic wills”) to be admitted as valid. Alabama does not recognize such handwritten wills.
After the testator dies, the personal representative should go to the Probate Court in the county where the testator lived at the time of their death with the Will. They should request a letter of administration (also called letters testamentary). Then the personal representative should begin collecting all the testator’s assets. Often times a testator will prepare an asset inventory to include with their Will. This is especially useful if the personal representative did not have intimate knowledge of the testator’s assets.
If someone dies without a valid will, they are considered to have died “intestate.” Every state has its own rules about who gets what under intestate laws, but they are generally similar. In dealing with estates, you will come across the word “issue.” In this context, issue means all of the people who have descended from the deceased. This includes children (natural and adopted), grandchildren (natural and adopted), great-grandchildren, and so on.
Once the estate is opened it must remain open for six months to allow creditors of the estate to submit claims. This means the estate cannot be closed in less than six months, with eight to ten months being more the typical time frame. Probating an estate can be done without an attorney, but having an experienced estate attorney help with the administration can speed up the process by getting the paperwork correct the first time. It could potentially costs you thousands of dollars if the process is mishandled and creditors get involved. Our rates start at a $1,500 retainer, depending on the size and complexity of the estate.