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What Happens to Your Will After You're Gone?

After a lifetime of maintaining your will, you may be wondering what exactly happens to it after you pass away. Well, after your lifetime, your will goes through what is known as probate, the legal procedure by which the courts oversee that your assets are properly distributed.

In general, if you leave a will, the will is submitted to a court for legal review. If you die without a will (called intestate), a court becomes responsible for ensuring that your estate is distributed according to your state's intestate succession laws. A number of steps occur in the probate process, including:
  • Your will and any codicils (separately written amendments to your will) are submitted to the probate court.
  • An executor is appointed to act on behalf of your estate.
  • People and businesses that have claims against your estate or owe money to your estate are notified.
  • Your estate's assets are inventoried.
  • Any valid claims or bills are paid from your estate.
  • The court determines when your estate is ready for distribution.
  • Your estate's assets are divided among your designated beneficiaries.
Depending on your estate, several additional steps may be involved. It is also important to note that laws about wills and probate vary from state to state. If you move to another state, it's a good idea to have an estate planning attorney review your will to see if it is valid in your new state.

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The information on this website is not intended as legal or tax advice. For legal or tax advice, please consult an attorney. Figures cited in examples are for hypothetical purposes only and are subject to change. References to estate and income taxes apply to federal taxes only. State income/estate taxes or state law may impact your results.