Legal requirement to notify next of kin

January of 1990 I saw a death announcement in the local paper for my mother’s ex-husband. I took my 3 days of paid bereavement leave (sorry, I can’t come in, my step father died) and continued on with my life. The only people I told about it was my siblings, there was no great sense of loss among us. A few years later my sister gave me a box of our late mother’s possessions, she looked through the stuff and there was nothing that interested her. In the box was our mother’s address book. I looked through it and found the address for the now deceased ex-husband’s sister in Colorado. I got to wondering if she knew about her brother so I sent her a letter. She did not know about her brother. She asked if I knew where he was buried. I checked and found the county had the body cremated and he was in a pauper grave at a local cemetery. I let her know and she was fine with that, said her brother likely didn’t care where he ended up.

One thing people may not realize is that in the absence of a will, relatives may be entitled to part of the estate even if the deceased is married. The OP mentioned a will so this wouldn’t apply, but many people mistakenly assume that the spouse automatically gets everything if there is no will. The default distribution is called “Intestate Succession”. Different states have different rules, so you would have to check your state to see how your estate would be distributed. Parents, siblings, or children may be entitled to a share. In that case, the surviving spouse would likely be legally required to notify those heirs. I’m not sure that the probate could be closed if there were eligible heirs that were not notified. Plus, it would create a legal mess since heirs could sue the estate. People especially forget about this with estranged relatives, but being estranged doesn’t change the rules.

when Buddy Holly died his mom heard the news on the radio. That led to the media not being told until next of kin were notified

^ This.

This is why I spoke with a lawyer. I don’t like my in-laws, but not to the point I’d break the law to spite them. In my particular state if a person dies without a will and has no children (which was our case) then the spouse gets everything. Honestly, I didn’t look up the situation regarding children, my main concern was if I owed any obligation to anyone else. I didn’t. But if I lived in a different state different laws would apply.