Fictional wills?
January 25, 2010 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Fiction filter: how, precisely, would a will be dealt with in this situation?

So I've got this novel going on and I need some info about wills, etc. My main character (MC) has a grandmother (G) who doesn't know where she is, but knows the location of MC's mother (M) who also happens to be mentally ill, but functional enough to live on her own. G dies and leaves everything to MC. Everything, in this case, is a house and all the contents.

So how does it work from there? Would the lawyer try to find the daughter through her mother or some other way? Assume that it's a really small town and the lawyer would go above and beyond what's typical. Once he got in contact with her, would he tell her over the phone what's going on? Would he tell the mother if he contacted her first?

Once the MC actually goes to the lawyer's office, how does that work? Do they really read the will out loud? What's a typical conversation in that situation?

Is there something else I'm missing? This is set in Illinois, if it makes a difference.

Thank you so much for your help!
posted by sugarfish to Law & Government (5 answers total)
IANAL and IAN(MC's)L, but I do have experience here. First, it may not be a "lawyer" that deals with G's estate. Generally, when G has a will prepared, either an Executor(E) or an Administrator(A) is appointed by G to handle her affairs. Also, generally, G lets the E or A know that she has made this appointment and delivers a copy of the will for safe-keeping. E or A can be an attorney and can be the attorney who prepared the will, but it could just as easily be the next door neighbor or a friend in another city. If it is the attorney who prepared the will, G gave her best guess as how to contact MC. Beyond that, the E or A would use the internet to track down MC based upon several telltale trails such as Social Security, credit cards, etc. It would probably take all of ten minutes to narrow the search. If it came down to two or three people with identical names, the E or A would send out letters asking if the person contacted was MC and for some proof of identity in order to settle an estate. In addition, the E or A would contact any other person who might be deemed to have an interest in G's estate and inform them of their right to challenge the terms of the will. This might include M or, if M has been adjudicated as mentally incompetent, M's Conservator.

From that point on, E or A would simply comply with Illinois law (which you can Google) to file the necessary documents with the court and the local records-keeping entities to convey title to MC. The process is rather bland, can takes months or years to complete, and does not require reading of the will to an assembly of people.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:12 AM on January 25, 2010

Just to add (from my experience), once a will is filed in probate court, an announcement is usually printed in the classified section of the newspaper to inform any debtors of the filing and allow them to come forward and claim part of the assets (in case the person died owing money to someone/some company). That classified could also help in locating the MC, if the MC actually read the ad and was inclined to contact the lawyer.
posted by MultiFaceted at 7:43 AM on January 25, 2010

Your best bet for maximum accuracy would probably be
posted by Lucinda at 7:58 AM on January 25, 2010

Assuming the lawyer is the executor of the estate (which isn't uncommon), he may try to track down the MC through the mom; he may publish notice to the MC in various newspapers (probably in Illinois if he knows the MC is in IL); but probably he'll use the internet, or hire a people-finding firm. (Or, if he's an older dude and this is a small town so you're going for "small town old-fashioned attorney," he may have his younger, tech-savvier secretary or paralegal do the internet hunting.)

It sort-of depends on how badly he wants to find the MC. There's a lot out there for lawyers looking for people, but publishing notice is the bare minimum you have to do in Illinois in most cases.

If MC and the lawyer don't live near each other, probably the ENTIRE settling of the estate would be handled by phone and mail. I've never seen a will read out loud by the lawyer; it sort-of makes me laugh, like watching attorneys approach the jury during summations on TV shows. I imagine the house is integral to your plot in some way, so you're probably going to have the MC come to town to deal with that (in which case I'd give her a glass of water and park her in an empty conference room to give her a chance to read the will herself if I were the lawyer, then maybe go over specifics). But if the house isn't integral, chances are good the MC would just have the executor/lawyer sell it without ever coming to look at it.

Once the estate is in probate, it's public record, so there wouldn't be much reason NOT to tell the mother, but it would depend on the lawyer's habits of discretion and his sense of the family dynamics. Personally, I probably wouldn't lead with, "We're trying to find your daughter to give her all your mom's stuff."

You're probably going to be bending the reality of the situation to make for better fiction, so I'd probably write it the way you wanted it, and then get a lawyer to look it over and tell you if anything is screamingly crazy. It sounds like you'll probably have the lawyer considerably more involved with the family than would be typical, and probably offering comfort/sympathy/exposition to the MC more than would be typical. That's okay; it's fiction.

I was an estate attorney in IL before I became a SAHM. But I'm not your attorney. Or your fictional character's! And I'm a little out of date from all this at-home-ness.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:40 AM on January 25, 2010

Oops, forgot to respond to this. Thanks for your advice, everyone. It's very helpful.
posted by sugarfish at 5:55 AM on February 8, 2010

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