How to handle Will and probate?

My father-in-law just passed away and left everything to my husband via a handwritten Will. He doesn’t have any assets that we know of, only a co-op condo which is pretty worthless ($7,000). Also, he had 1 insurance policy worth $10,000 that barely covers the costs of the funeral expenses. Is my husband now responsible for his debt? How do we find out if he had anything else? Does he get anything?

Asked on January 3, 2011 under Estate Planning, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

1) A decedent's heirs are not responsible for his debts (if any). However, the decedent's estate may be--that is, many debts will be paid (as much as possible, at least) out of the assets the decedent is leaving behind before the balance are distributed to heirs.

2) The will may or may not be effective--if wills are not filled out correctly, they may not be enforced. However, since the will purports to leave everything to your husband, there's probably no reason to challenge it.

3) If you think the father-in-law may have had other assets, speak with a trusts and estate's attorney in your area (one who knows the local courts and banks). He or she would be your best source for advice and assistance in trying to determine if there are other assets. If there are, under the will your husband would get them; and even if the will were invalid, if there's  no surviving spouse and you husband is the only surviving child, he'd get them, too. Of course, if you don't have credible grounds for thinking there is more somewhere, it may not be worth expending any effort on finding them.


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