Who Needs to Be Notified in Probate?
If you’re the executor of a will (or administrator of an estate), notifying individuals and entities of the death of the deceased is a significant element of your responsibilities. Some you’ll be required by the probate court to notify, and others you’ll need to notify in the course of administering the estate.
A word of advice: Because organization is such a crucial part of administering an estate, you may consider creating both a form letter that you can update and send to various parties as well as a checklist to make sure you’ve covered all your bases.
As executor of a will or administrator of an estate, you are required to notify:
An heir-at-law is the deceased’s next of kin, and they are required to be notified whether there is a will or not — even if they’re specifically not named in an existing will.
Who qualifies as the next of kin?
Each state sets its own laws defining next of kin, but the priority of inheritance (called intestate succession) usually proceeds as follows:
- Surviving spouse of deceased
- Children of deceased, or the offspring of children (grandchildren, if adults)
- Parents of deceased
- Siblings of deceased
- Grandparents of deceased
- Aunts and uncles of deceased and other extended family
That doesn’t mean you’re required to notify all of these people. If the deceased individual has a surviving spouse and a children, and you notify them, you’ve likely satisfied your obligation. But if they don’t, then you would have to move on to notifying the parents of the deceased. If they’re also not alive, then you’d move on to notifying the deceased’s siblings.
You may be wondering why you have to notify heirs-at law if there’s a will, especially if they’re not named in the will.
Notifications provide the would-be heirs notice that the deceased has passed and gives them an opportunity to challenge any of the facts presented in probate court. The court can then be sure that the most recent valid will is the one presented in court.
Named beneficiaries are exactly what they sound like — those people named in a valid will. Whereas heirs-at-law are always family members, a named beneficiary could be a neighbor, a friend, or even an institution.
They need to be made aware that the deceased has died and that the deceased has left them a portion of the estate.
Most states require you to place an ad in the local newspaper letting creditors and interested parties know about the deceased’s death. You’ll likely also be required to do a bit of due diligence to determine what the deceased owed and to whom.
If you identify specific creditors through that process, you’ll need to notify them.
You’re required to notify all those individuals (or entities) listed above as part of the probate process. But in the meantime, you’re also managing the estate. And that will likely involve a lot of additional notifications.
Depending on the specifics of the decedent’s life and death, you may need to notify:
The U.S. Postal Service
If the deceased’s spouse is no longer living, you will likely want to transfer the deceased’s mail to your own address to make managing the estate more efficient.
If the deceased’s employer is unaware of their death, they’ll need to be notified as soon as possible.
The Social Security Administration
If the deceased was receiving social security benefits, then you’ll need to contact the Social Security Administration to notify them of the death. If benefits were being direct deposited, contact the bank and request that they return any payments received after the deceased’s death.
The Veterans’ Administration
As with social security benefits, if the deceased was receiving veterans’ benefits, you’ll need to notify the Veterans’ Administration. They may also provide certain death benefits, so find out whether the deceased qualifies for those.
If the deceased’s spouse is still alive, you may need to contact the utility companies — like gas, water, electric, trash pickup, etc — to change the name on the account. If the deceased’s spouse is not alive, you’ll need to notify the utility companies of the death and ask that they send all future bills to you. Once you’ve handled the deceased’s home (for instance, selling it), you can contact the utility company to shut off the utilities.
If the deceased had a cell phone, contact the cell company to find out whether their contract can be terminated upon their death.
Notify any membership organizations — especially those with dues — that the deceased was a part of. Request cancellation of the membership.
If the deceased has life insurance, you’ll need to notify the life insurance company. You’ll also need to notify their homeowners insurance and car insurance companies.
Retirement or pension plans
Notify the providers of any retirement or pension plans that the deceased had in place. All such plans are required to have named beneficiaries, to which the funds pass upon the death of the plan holder.
Administering an estate can be time-consuming and exhausting, but it’s not impossible. Most executors can even do it without an attorney. Learn more about how we can help you quickly and easily probate a will.