When someone dies, the distribution of their assets is hopefully determined by a clear and legally binding will. If not, the assets come under control of the state, and a probate court will decide how best to distribute them.
An Investopedia article from last month asks, “When Are Beneficiaries of a Will Notified?” The article explains that in situations where the assets are structured to avoid probate (like setting up joint tenancy or making an assets payable upon death), there are no specific notification requirements.
Since probated wills are public record, when there are assets subject to probate and the will is filed with the probate court, anyone who thinks he or she may be a beneficiary is entitled to look at the will at the courthouse.
Probate is the legal process of proving that a will is valid and is administered by a probate judge. The court examines the will and directs the executor to gather the deceased’s assets and distribute them to the heirs, according to the instructions in the will.
Once the probate court says the will is valid, all beneficiaries are required to be notified within three months (in many states), but notification typically will happen a lot sooner.
Many county courthouses have a department called “Register of Wills,” where probated wills may be viewed.
It is important to understand that probate isn’t required in all circumstances. If the decedent has assets below a certain threshold (determined by the specific state), probate may not be necessary.
Reference: Investopedia (June 18, 2019) “When Are Beneficiaries of a Will Notified?”