How does my friend find out if her father or uncle left her anything in their will?
Probate is the term used for the process of handling a decedent's estate. It may include probating a will, if there is one, and the appointment of someone as Executor or Administrator to handle things. Probate must take place in the Circuit Court of the county or city where the decedent last resided. If the decedent was in a nursing home, probate would usually take place where they resided prior to entering the nursing home. Probate is not mandatory. If the decedent held all of his assets in joint tenancy with right of survivorship with someone or held everything in a living trust, the estate may not need to be probated. Probate assets would only include things held solely in the decedent's name alone with no beneficiary listed.
In order to probate a will, the Court Clerk must have the original. A copy is not acceptable. The will either must have a self-proving clause at the end (meaning the witnesses and the testator signed before a Notary Public and it contains the proper language) or the witnesses to the will need to testify. This can be done by obtaining an affidavit from the Clerk and having the witnesses sign before a Notary Public or appear in person before the Clerk. The will should name someone as Executor. The Clerk can only appoint this person to handle the estate. If the named Executor is deceased or does not wish to qualify, the duty would fall to the next named Executor. If the will does not name anyone else, the Clerk has the authority to appoint someone. If the named Executor does not wish to qualify, they must sign an affidavit before a Notary giving up their right to qualify.
If someone dies without a will, the legal heirs have the first right to qualify. That means the Clerk cannot appoint one heir without all the other heirs agreeing in writing for the first 30 days after death. After 30 days, the Clerk can appoint any heir without agreement of the other heirs. After 60 days, the Clerk can use discretion to appoint anyone requesting it without agreement of the heirs.
Probate records may be found in the Court Clerk's office where the will was probated or the decedent's estate was opened. Many counties have some of these records online.