You've just been notified that a loved one has passed away and you have been appointed the executor of his or her estate. Your first thought may be sheer panic. But take a deep breath and relax, because the probate process isn't as difficult as it may seem. First, you need to know that "probate" is the term used to identify the process of administering a descendant's estate, and it can be done in 4 simple steps. Keep reading to learn more about this process:
1. File Estate Documents With The Probate Court Where Your Loved One Lived.
This is also called petitioning the probate court. You will have to complete a Petition Of Estate document and give that to the court. You'll also need to bring these documents to the court house:
An original copy of the Last Will And Testament.
The document that appoints you as the executor of the will, which may or may not be part of the Will.
A surety bond, if required by the state.
Check with a local probate attorney, because requirements and laws vary by state. Depending on where the descendant resided, there may be additional documents you need to file at the court house.
2. Give Written Notice To Heirs, Beneficiaries, And Creditors
As the executor of the estate, it is your responsibility to give notice of the court hearing regarding the petition you filed above to all the descendant's beneficiaries and heirs. This gives them the opportunity to object to you being assigned as the executor, if they choose to. In most cases, a notice of the hearing will also be published in a local newspaper.
A written notice must also be provided to all the deceased person's creditors, depending upon state law. There is a timeframe, which varies by state, as to how long a creditor has to make a claim on the descendant's assets.
3. Take Inventory And Pay All Expenses, Debts, And Taxes
Next, the executor takes inventory of the descendant's real estate property, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, insurance policies, business interests, and any other applicable assets. Some states require an independent appraiser to handle all non-cash assets.
Once all the assets have been determined, it is up to the executor to pay all final bills from the estate that are deemed legitimate. In most cases, the executor is allowed to sell estate assets to cover these expenses.
4. Transfer Any Remaining Estate Assets
After the deadline for all creditors to file claims to assets, and all expenses and taxes are paid, the executor must petition the court once again to gain permission to transfer the remaining assets to beneficiaries as instructed in the descendant's Will. If the Will calls for the creation of a trust, then that trust must be established accordingly. Once permission has been granted by the court, you as the executor must then take action to liquidate and transfer assets and property to the appropriate recipients.
If you have any questions, contact your local probate attorney. He or she will be happy to discuss your specific situation. Or, you can hire the attorney to ensure the probate process is done correctly from beginning to end. This is especially important if an heir or beneficiary is contesting part or all of the Will.