If there is a will, it will dictate who are the beneficiaries of the estate. This could be any person or entity that the decedent has designated. A will works in the same way as a contract, once the decedent has passed away and the will is probated, the decedent’s will controls who inherits estate property. If there is not a will, you must follow the Alabama rules of intestacy and the heirs at law would inherit the estate. The heirs at law include the surviving spouse and next of kin such as children. In the absence of these parties, more remote relatives will inherit the estate, such as parents or siblings.
There are three ways to access a decedent’s bank account. If there is a survivor beneficiary named on an account then those parties would have access. If there is an account titled solely in one person’s name, there may be a payable on death provision that governs the account. If these options do not exist, then the bank will require Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary. Banks have very strict provisions that regulate access to decedent accounts and it is often important to have an attorney help you with this process.
Parties can sell real estate titled in a decedent’s name once you have opened a probate administration, unless the property has a survivor benefit. If the property is titled in the decedent’s name solely, then it passes according to probate law upon death. Sales can be made, but sale proceeds typically need to be held in an estate account for a period of time until all claims of the estate have been satisfied.
An heir at law has a right to force the opening of an estate and a right to know what the assets of the estate are and where they are going to be distributed. If you are unsure about whether or not there is a will, you can begin the process in intestacy and begin administering the estate until a will is located and presented. The administrator or executor is required to let heirs see a copy of the will, provide lists of assets and accountings. While it is rare that assets of the estate are hidden from heirs, it is possible. More often, the assets of an estate are known, and the disputed issues involve who is entitled to inherit those assets.
With modern technology, we can help clients no matter where they are located. It is very rare that clients need to travel or be present for the probate process. Many procedures can be handled remotely with documents being signed and notarized wherever the client is located. In the rare instance that a person would have to travel to Alabama and be present, it would likely be very limited.