Are you a probate attorney, paralegal, estate administrator, fiduciary, or investor? Probate courts are beginning to open. Be prepared and beat the rush! Our team of forensic genealogists’ shares tips to ensure you’re ready to notify.
As probate courts begin to reopen, the courts will be inundated with new cases. It will be more important than ever to be ready and to achieve as much progress as possible in each hearing and avoid unnecessary continuances.
Each state has very specific laws requiring different tasks to be achieved at different times. Generally, there are five groups of parties who must be notified:
- Heirs-at-Law (whether they are named as beneficiaries in a will or not).
- Named beneficiaries in the decedent’s will, if a will was made.
- Government agencies: Social Security Administration, Veteran’s Administration, U.S. Postal Service, etc.
- Others, such as retirement and pension plans, insurance companies, etc.
Often, the trickiest notifications are to heirs-at-law. Heirs-at-law are the decedent’s next of kin. Many states require heir-at-law notification before probate cases can even be formally opened, whether a will was in place or not. Legacy Tree Genealogists has a dedicated probate research division, and our forensic genealogists are ready to help!
Most states require heirs-at-law to be descendants of one of the decedent’s grandparents, although some states will allow descendants of a great-grandparent, or even further back. The priority of heirs-at-law mirrors the priority of inheritance that is called intestate succession. Priority is ordered in levels of family consanguinity.
Once you have proof of a family group level with living members, you need not continue to the next level. For example, states requiring heirs-at-law to be descendants of a grandparent of the decedent, generally ask, when the decedent died …*
- Did the decedent have a surviving spouse? If yes, stop and notify. If no, continue to the next group.
- Did the decedent have living children or grandchildren through deceased children? If yes, stop and notify. If no, continue to the next group.
- Did the decedent have living parents? If yes, stop and notify. If no, continue to the next group.
- Did the decedent have living siblings, or are there living descendants of deceased siblings? If yes, stop and notify. If no, continue to the next group.
- Did the decedent have living grandparents? If yes, stop and notify. If no, continue to the next group.
- Does the decedent have living aunts and uncles or living descendants of aunts and uncles? Stop. Notify if the answer is yes.
It is important to note that forensic genealogists make no statements about who will ultimately inherit, who is a legal heir or who will actually receive money. That authority rests solely with the court. Our role, as forensic genealogists, is to provide the information necessary for the court to make informed rulings on the distribution of assets. Probate cases can be complex; the seeking of legal advice is always important and recommended. However, the use of forensic genealogists can be a vital tool in providing an unbiased understanding of the familial relationships needed in the probate process to ultimately achieve a successful outcome. For more information, review our Forensic & Probate Research FAQs.
If you find you cannot conclusively answer the questions above, the forensic team at Legacy Tree Genealogists is here for you. We research to define the identities of and locate contact information for heirs-at-law, so you can be ready for the courts to open. Contact us today to request a free quote.