For most people, a Last Will and Testament serves as the foundation for their initial estate plan. If you are just now getting around to creating and executing your first Will, you undoubtedly have a number of important decisions to make during the creation of that Will. Naturally, you will be focusing on the distribution of your estate assets and other provisions of your Will; however, there is another equally important decision to make when you create your Will – who to appoint as your Executor. A common mistake is to appoint a spouse, family member, or close friend as the Executor without stopping to consider if that individual is really the best choice given the numerous duties and responsibilities the Executor will have during the probate of the estate. The Port St. Lucie estate planning attorneys at Kulas & Crawford explain the importance of choosing the right Executor to help prevent you from making this same mistake.
What Is Probate?
When an individual dies, the law requires the decedent’s estate to go through the legal process known as probate. If the decedent died testate, meaning with a valid Last Will and Testament in place, the individual named as the Executor in that Will is the person who will oversee the administration of the estate during the probate process. Probate can involve many complex legal and financial issues. If an Executor is not well versed in the law and/or the world of finance, he/she could make a costly mistake, resulting in both the loss of assets to the estate and unnecessary delays to beneficiaries of the estate. To avoid this outcome during the probate of your estate, take the time now to learn what your Executor’s duties and responsibilities will be and then appoint the right person to the position.
Duties and Responsibilities of an Executor
The overall job of your Executor is to oversee the probate of your estate; however, to accomplish this overall goal an Executor must perform a wide range of duties and responsibilities, including:
- Securing documents and assets. Often, an Executor is grieving the loss of a family member or close loved one; however, he/she 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 certified ordered. Any additional estate planning documents should also be located and secured.
- Identifying and securing assets. As soon after the decedent’s death as possible, the Executor should start identifying and securing estate assets. This may be as simple as closing a bank account or as complex as shutting down a business. A preliminary decision must also be made regarding what type of probate is required – formal or an alternative to formal for small estates.
- Initiating probate. Probate usually occurs in the county wherein the decedent was a resident at the time of his/her death. To open the probate of an estate the Executor must obtain a certified copy of the death certificate, a signed, original copy of the decedent’s Will, and a petition to open probate. By this point, most Executors have retained the services of an experienced estate planning attorney who will prepare the necessary petition.
- Categorizing and valuing 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.
- Notifying creditors and reviewing 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. The Executor, must review all claims and approve or deny them.
- Litigating any challenges. If a Will contest is filed, the Executor is required to defend the Will submitted for probate throughout the litigation that will follow.
- Paying taxes. The Executor 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.
- Distributing assets. Finally, the Executor must prepare any necessary legal documents to effectuate the transfer of the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries.
Contact Port St. Lucie Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding choosing the right Executor for your estate, contact the experienced Port St. Lucie estate planning attorneys at Kulas & Crawford by calling (772) 398-0720 to schedule an appointment.