When a person dies without a last will and testament, he is said to have died "intestate." How much money is in the estate will ultimately determine how you proceed; some states, such as California, have simplified procedures for small estates. In most cases, if there is no will and no surviving spouse, someone will need to become the executor of the estate. This requires obtaining a court order through your probate court branch.
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Obtain one original copy of the death certificate for each bank account in question. You will also need one of the probate court filings. These are available through your county department of vital records or country recorder's office, for a nominal fee.
Gather all pertinent information regarding the deceased and his accounts. You will need to gather his legal name, alias names, last known legal address, date of birth and Social Security number. Also get a copy of all bank statements (and other assets) if possible. While the institutions will not give you any information yet, you should be able to find some records at the deceased's home.
Go to probate court to file a petition to become the executor of the estate. Ask the clerk what forms you need to file and where they should be submitted. Use black ink to fill out the forms and include all supporting documentation required by the application. Sign and submit the form and set a hearing date.
Attend the hearing date. Unless there is an objection to you becoming the executor, you should be given appointed as the executor. Obtain the court order from probate court naming you as such.
Take the court order, death certificate and your identification to each bank. Explain to the customer service representative that you are closing the accounts to settle the estate. File all required paperwork to obtain cashier's checks for distribution to the heirs.
Tips and warnings
- Proper planning assures your assets will go to the right beneficiaries. Many people assume a spouse will automatically inherit all assets, but surviving spouses are left with only a third of the assets awarded to them in probate; the remainder goes to surviving parents, siblings or children.
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