When someone dies, the estate of the decedent typically has to go through the legal process known as probate. If the decedent left behind a valid Last Will and Testament, the individual named as the Executor in the Will is the person who will be responsible for overseeing the probate of the estate throughout the probate process. Ideally, a Testator (a person who creates a Will) discusses the appointment with the intended Executor prior to actually making the appointment in his/her Will. Sometimes, however, the Executor doesn’t find out about the appointment until after the Testator’s death. If you have suddenly been thrown into the role of Executor of the estate of someone who recently died, you are probably feeling a bit overwhelmed and confused if you have never been through the probate process. The good news is that a probate attorney can help you through the probate process and make sure you carry out your duties and responsibilities as Executor properly.
What Are the Duties and Responsibilities of an Executor?
Every estate is unique; however, there are a number of Executor duties and responsibilities that are common to almost every estate , including:
- Opening probate – as Executor, your first duty is to initiate the probate process. To do that, you will need to submit the original Last Will and Testament along with a petition to open probate to the appropriate court. You will also need to petition the court to officially designate you as the Executor. This is typically just a formality since the decedent appointed you in his/her Will.
- Identifying and locating assets – all assets owned by the decedent, or in which the decedent had any ownership interest, must be identified and located. This includes both real and personal property as well as tangible and intangible assets. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate and the record-keeping skills of the decedent, this task alone can take weeks.
- Valuing estate assets – a “Date of Death,” or DoD, value must be obtained for all estate assets. This may require you to hire professional appraisers if the assets are things such as real property, business assets, or valuable personal property.
- Notification to creditors of the estate– creditors of the estate must be notified that probate has begun. Known creditors can be notified personally; however, notice of the probate of the estate must also be published in a local newspaper in order to notify unknown creditors.
- Reviewing and paying creditor claims – creditors of the estate have a statutory time period within which they must file a claim against the estate. Once a claim is filed the Executor must review the claim and approve or deny it. If the claim is approved the claim is paid out of available estate assets. When sufficient liquid assets do not exist to pay the claims assets from the estate may have to be sold to raise the necessary funds.
- Defending the estate and protecting estate assets – if a challenge is filed against the estate, such as a Will contest, the Executor must defend the Will submitted to probate. In addition, as the Executor of the estate you must protect and secure estate assets.·
- Paying estate taxes – the Executor must make sure that all personal and estate taxes are paid before any assets are released to beneficiaries.
- Transferring estate assets to beneficiaries or heirs—finally,you will need to execute all documents required to legally transfer the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries or heirs of the estate.
How Can a Probate Attorney Help?
By now, you are likely thinking the job of Executor sounds fairly time intensive and requires a decent amount of financial and legal expertise. In many cases you are absolutely correct. The good news is that if the estate requires formal probate it is likely large enough to warrant hiring an experienced Florida probate attorney to assist you. Most Executors do retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to help them to ensure that the probate process runs as smoothly as possible and is concluded in a timely manner.
If you have additional questions about the probate process, or how a probate attorney can help you, in the State of Florida please contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Kulas & Crawford. by calling 772-398-0720 to schedule an appointment. In addition, please download a free copy of our “Solid Estate Plan Checklist.”