WILLS & ESTATES
WHAT IS A WILL?
A will is a document which provides the manner in which a person’s property will be distributed when he dies. A person who dies after writing a Will is said to have died testate.
WHO MAY MAKE A WILL?
In Alabama, the maker of a Will must be: (1) at least 18 years old; (2) of sound mind; and (3) free from improper influences by other people.
HOW DO I MAKE A WILL?
A Will must meet certain requirements set by the State to be considered valid. The Will must be written, signed by the maker, and witnessed by two people in the manner required by the law.
WHAT HAPPENS TO MY PROPERTY IF I DO NOT WRITE A WILL?
If someone dies without writing a Will, they have died intestate. Each state has specific laws governing the distribution of property when a person dies intestate, and most laws are generally the same.
STEPS IN PROBATE OF AN ESTATE:
Take immediate control of the estate
*Inventory of the estate within 2 months
Notice must be given to all heirs
Letters of Testamentary (administration) granted
Notice to file claims must be published and individual notice given to anyone known to have a claim against the deceased
Claims must be filed generally within 6 months
Generally the estate cannot be divided until all claims and expenses have been paid which is at least six months
Court must approve administrator's fees
A MEMBER OF MY FAMILY PASSED AWAY WITH A SAFE DEPOSIT BOX AT A BANK SOLEY IN HIS/HER NAME. THE BANK WILL NOT ALLOW THE FAMILY TO REMOVE THE ITEMS AND CLOSE THE BOX OR EVEN ACCESS THE BOX TO SEE WHAT IS IN IT. WHAT CAN WE DO?
Unfortunately, the only way to force the bank to allow you access to the box is to hire an attorney who will seek a court order for you. Sometimes you can convince the bank to just open the box and let you see what is in it (without removing anything) so you can decide if it is worth the cost of hiring a lawyer. This is more an issue of bank policy rather than probate law, so the first step in solving this problem is to work with your bank and try and convince them to assist you.
After a certain number of years of inactivity, the bank will likely send the contents of the box to the State Treasurer’s Office’s Unclaimed Property Division. Heirs of the original box renter can claim the contents through the claims process established by the State Treasurer.
This scenario highlights two estate planning points. First, it is generally not a good idea to put your Last Will and Testament, Living Will, or Power of Attorney in a safe deposit box. Second, you should designate a person you trust to be able to access the box along with you.