The term “execute a will” simply means for the “executor,” the person named in the will, to follow the instruction in the text of the will.  This might seem obvious, but the first step to properly execute a will is to make sure it is the original signed will and not a copy. Next, is to file the will with the probate court.  This can only be done once the “testator,” the term for the person who wrote the will, has passed away.  It is often in the best interest of the “beneficiaries,” those receiving property though the will, to file the will as soon as possible, as the process can take time.

Where must the will be filed? To start executing a will, it must be filed in the probate court in the county where the testator has last lived or in the county where they died.  Some states do not have separate probate courts, but a quick online search should link to the county’s website where court information and numbers are usually listed.  Also, a local telephone directory should have the number to the proper place to file the will.  Filing the will as soon as reasonably possible after the testator dies, does two things, it sets in motion the probate process and it should help the beneficiaries get the property more quickly.  It also ensures that state probate deadlines are met long before the timeline requires, preventing any unnecessary timing problems.

Who should file the will? This may be surprising, but anyone who has possession of the will can file it at the probate court.  Often, it is the executor of the will who will file with the court because they usually know they are named to handle the estate, they are responsible enough to properly execute the will, and they work closely with the court through the the probate process.  Some states actually have laws stating a person in possession of a will must file it in court and if they do not there are ways a beneficiary or an executor can force them to do so.  

When do the beneficiaries receive the assets?  The people named in the will who will receive property will get their share of the estate when the probate process is complete.  The executor must list out all the assets and the bills to be paid, and this can take a lot of time, especially if the estate is not well-organized.  Most states give a deadline of a few weeks for the executor to finish the inventory after the will is filed. The also gives creditors time to send in their bills once the notice has been given. The length of probate also depends on if anyone contests the will.  Even a short probate process can take a couple months and a large or contested estate can take over a year to complete.  The instructions leaving assets to beneficiaries cannot happen until all these issues are settled.  Therefore, properly executing a will must start with filing the original will as soon as reasonably possible with the probate court where the testator last lived.  

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