Hi, my name is Bill Miller. I’m an estate planning and elder law attorney here in Alabama. One of the most frequently-asked questions I get is “do I have to probate a will in Alabama?” The answer is that it depends. A will controls the assets that someone owns in their own name at the time of their death. So if that person owns assets in their name, they do not have beneficiary designations on them or do not pass some other way, then the will would have to be probate in order for the title of those assets to be transferred to the heirs. As an example, most people own their life insurance, annuities, and retirement plans and they have beneficiary designations on them. When they pass away with a beneficiary designation, that asset goes immediately to the beneficiary, and it does not matter what your will says and does not have to go through probate.
On the other hand, you may have someone who has a bank account just in their name or real estate that is just in their name, and when they pass away, since there is no beneficiary named, that asset has to go through the probate process in order for it to be transferred. So the only way to do that is through a will. Again, you can have real estate that is owned joint with right of survivorship, which is the way most spouses own their real estate. When one spouse dies, the other one owns it. No need to probate the will; it goes directly to them. But when the second spouse dies and they want it to go to their children, the only way to do that, if they still own it solely in their name, is to go through the probate process, and the will is what determines the who gets what through the probate process.
So I hope that answers that question. If you like more information, I encourage you to visit our website at www.annistonestateplanning.com. And you can also register for one of our free estate-planning workshops where we address this and other issues in more detail.