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In South Carolina, can I file my will at the courthouse while I am alive for safekeeping?

Photo by Timothy L Brock on Unsplash

I received a call the other day asking me for information about preparing and filing a will. I was glad to discuss what goes into preparing a will. However, at least since I have been practicing since the mid 1990s, probate courts in South Carolina do not accept wills for safekeeping while the testator or testatrix (the person who signed the will) is alive. A will is only filed after someone has passed away. The register of deeds (sometimes called register of mesne conveyance or RMC) will file a properly executed durable (financial) power of attorney, deed, or a host of other documents, but not a will. Neither living wills nor health care powers of attorney are required to be filed, either.

Probate Court Availability

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Probate court availability depends on the county that you are in. A good place to start is the county website of the court that you are trying to reach. Most of the courts in the Midlands of South Carolina have some staff working, but by and large courthouse access is extremely limited. The South Carolina Judicial website has some good information about court and courthouse availability. Click here for details.  Stay safe everyone!

 

Social Security After Death

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When someone dies, Social Security payments need to be stopped. Usually, the funeral home will take care of notifying the Social Security Administration (SSA), so check with your funeral director to make sure that is done. If for some reason you need to do it yourself, the Social Security Administration provides instructions here. It needs to be done right away because Social Security has rules as to when benefits need to be paid back, and it can sometimes cause an issue if benefits continue to be paid after death.  Social Security benefits are paid a month behind, and a beneficiary needs to survive the entire month to be eligible to keep the payment for that month. Here is a good explanation from AARP.  The SSA provides this link that details the next steps for the survivors – remember that there is a small death benefit to eligible recipients and it is always worth checking to see if your benefits can be increased. 

Co-Personal Representatives

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I get asked frequently whether someone can name co-personal representatives in their will. (A personal representative is the same thing as an executor.) The answer is yes, in South Carolina, you can name co-personal representatives. If you are considering doing this, think about factors such as (1) how well the proposed co-personal representatives get along, (2) how trustworthy are both the proposed co-personal representatives, and (3) the advantages and disadvantages of having two people participate in the administration of the estate. There is no one size fits all answer, but legally, it can be done.

If you have any questions about estate planning or probate, feel free to give me a call at (803) 999-1256. I will be happy to do what I can to put your mind at ease.

Social Security

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What do you have to do after someone passes away who received Social Security benefits? From the Social Security Website:

Following the death of a Social Security recipient, the SSA will pay a lump-sum death benefit of $255 to: A spouse who was living with the deceased person at the time of death; or. A spouse or a child who, in the month of death, is eligible for a Social Security benefit based on the deceased person’s record.

Also:

You should give the funeral home the deceased person’s Social Security number if you want them to make the report. If you need to report a death or apply for benefits, call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can speak to a Social Security representative between 7 AM and 7 PM Monday through Friday.

More information can be found here at the SSA website.

In South Carolina, does the probate court keep the original will if I file it?

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Some clients would like to keep the original will as a memento and file a copy of it with the probate court instead. Unfortunately, if you have the original will, in South Carolina it needs to be filed, and the probate court keeps the original. If you ever need a copy, you can get a regular or certified copy from the probate court.

If you have any questions about the probate process, please give me a call at (803) 929-0096.

 

How do I find information about the probate courts and probate judges around South Carolina?

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Check out the South Carolina Judicial Department website here for basic information about the courts and about the judges. Most of the forms you need are on the site as well.

 

Steps to take after the death of a loved one

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I recently came across this article from the California Probate Blog and it has some great tips about what to do after a loved one dies. Check it out here

The probate court can’t give you legal advice, but they can sometimes point you in the right direction. And, of course, you may want to contact an attorney with your questions. You may find it easier to let someone else handle the legal end of things.

New Forms

Several probate forms have been updated. Here is a list.  If you need the forms themselves, either for probate or the other courts, you can look for them here.

 

Does the probate court give me the original will and death certificate back after I file them?

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No, in South Carolina the probate court keeps the original documents after you file them. If you are doing this on your own, you may want to bring an extra set of copies to the probate court when you file them. In the future, you can request a certified copy if you have need of one, as well.

If you have any questions or comments, or if I can help in any way, please feel free to call me at (803) 929-0096, or email me at mike@belserpa.com.