Learning that someone close to you has passed away is rarely easy to accept, even if you were expecting the death. The same can often be said for learning that you were named as the Executor of the estate in your loved one’s Last Will and Testament. The thought of taking on the responsibility for probating an estate may seem rather daunting, particularly in light of the fact that you are still grieving the loss of your loved one. The good news is that help is available. Probate attorneys not only help with the creation of estate plans but can also help you with probate administration if you have been named Executor of the estate. Given the potential complexity of the probate process, having an experienced probate attorney on your side is prudent to ensure you don’t make costly mistakes.
Probate is the legal process that is typically required following an individual’s death. There are several inter-related reasons why the law requires probate. The fact that your loved one named you as the Executor of his/her estate shows that your loved one had a considerable amount of trust and faith in your abilities. If you have never been through the probate of an estate, it is imperative that you have some idea what your duties and responsibilities will be so that you can understand the advantages to having an experienced probate attorney on your side. As the Executor, you will likely need to:
- Locate estate planning documents. An Executor must act quickly to prepare for the opening of probate. An original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament must be located and certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate ordered. Any additional estate planning documents should also be located and secured.
- Identify and secure estate assets. You must also identify and secure all estate assets as well as make a preliminary decision regarding what type of probate is required – formal or an alternative to formal for small estates.
- Value and categorize assets. The Executor must obtain a date of death value for all estate assets and decide if they are probate or non-probate assets because some assets bypass the probate process entirely.
- Initiate probate. You will need to submit a certified copy of the death certificate, a signed, original copy of the decedent’s Will, and a petition to open probate to the appropriate court. If you have retained the services of a probate attorney, your attorney will take care of preparing the documents needed to file with the court.
- Notify creditors and review claims. Known creditors may be notified individually. Unknown creditors are notified via publication in a local newspaper. Creditors then have a statutory amount of time to file a claim against the estate. You will need to review all claims and approve or deny them.
- Defend the estate against challenges. If a Will contest is filed, the Executor is required to defend the Will submitted for probate throughout the litigation that will follow.
- Calculate and pay taxes. You must determine if any state or federal gift and estate taxes are due from the estate. All necessary tax returns must be filed and any tax debt owed must be paid out of estate assets.
- Distribute remaining assets. Finally, the Executor must prepare any necessary legal documents to effectuate the transfer of the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries.
How Can Probate Attorneys Help?
The law does not require you to retain the services of a probate attorney if you are the Executor of an estate; however, there are numerous reasons why most Executors choose to hire an attorney to assist them during probate administration. If you are unfamiliar with the rules and procedures of a probate court, navigating the court system can be challenging, to say the least. Consequently, the risk of making a costly mistake goes up. In addition, acting as the Executor can be very time consuming, not to mention emotionally draining. Probate attorneys can help in numerous ways, such as:
- Preparing and filing all documents that must be filed with the court.
- Providing advice and guidance on the law and the court procedures.
- Locating experts to assist with the probate process, such as appraisers, accountants, and real estate agents.
- Assisting with the sale of assets if necessary to pay claims.
- Defending the estate if a challenge is brought.
- Ensuring that the estate’s tax obligations are met.
- Preparing all documents necessary to transfer assets to beneficiaries and/or heirs.
- Communicating with beneficiaries and/or creditors when questions arise.
Contact Probate Attorneys
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have questions or concerns regarding your job as Executor during probate administration, contact the experienced probate attorneys at Nash, Nash, Bean & Ford, LLP by calling 309-944-2188 to schedule your appointment today.