To understand things that would add complexity to probating a Will, it is useful to look at what an ideal (and easy) probate looks like. The complicated situations occur when one or more of these simplifying factors are missing, or when some troubling variation is in play.
In an ideal situation, we have the following:
- An attorney prepared and supervised Will.
- Two witnesses have signed the Will, and also signed a Witness Affidavit.
- We have an original Will, not a photocopy.
- There are no corrections, deletions or alterations on the Will.
- The staples have not been removed.
- We know who the distributees (people who would inherit if there were no will) are, and we know where they are. AND, even better, they will sign a Waiver.
- We have a Will that names an Executor and that person is alive, willing to serve, and doesn't have anything about them that would prevent them from serving.
- The Will doesn't do anything that would tick off an interested party.
- The terms of the Will are clear and easy to understand.
- The person's non-probate assets (i.e. - accounts with beneficiaries, life insurance policies or jointly held real estate) are distributed consistently with the apparent intention of the Will.
- There isn't a spouse being cut out in the Will (thus triggering a right of election).
- The death certificate lists an address in the County you think it should.
- There aren't big creditor claims, or Medicaid liens, or open taxes (or years of unfiled taxes when they should have been filed)
- We know what the assets are and where they are....and nobody has been plundering them with a power of attorney.
- The person did their Will a few years ago (as opposed to a few days, or hours, before they died)
Contrary to what many people think, most Wills fit the profile above. Things need to be done, and they can be easily done.
Of course, there are many situations where one or more of the above complexities are in play. They can all be addressed, but they take some know-how, some expense, and some time.
These issues are precisely the reason why I cannot answer the question "How much do you charge to probate a Will?" I answer that question AFTER I know about the existence, and extent, of the complexities.
Next post - How do we deal with some specific complexities?