The loss of a family member or other loved one is typically followed by a period of grief during which the last thing you likely want to focus on is the legalities of the decedent’s death. If, however, you were named as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, you will have to do just that in the coming months. If you have specific questions relating to your role as Executor it is in your best interest to discuss them with an experienced estate planning attorney. To give you an idea of what you will encounter during the probate process, the Port St. Lucie probate attorneys at Kulas & Crawford have put together a list of the common steps involved in probating an estate.
The Role of Executor
When a Testator creates a Will, one of the most important decisions he/she makes is who to appoint as the Executor. The Executor is responsible for overseeing the entire probate of the estate. As you will learn, the duties and responsibilities of an Executor are numerous and varied. Although the decedent appointed you to be the Executor, the court must affirm that appointment and you always have the option to decline the job.
What Is Probate?
When a person dies, he or she leaves behind an estate that includes all assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. Probate is the legal process that ensures all those assets are accounted for and eventually transferred to the new owners. Probate also ensures that all debts of the decedent and the estate are paid before those assets are transferred out of the estate.
Common Steps in the Probate Process
The following are common steps involved in the probate of the average estate. To find out exactly what steps will be involved in the estate you are probating, consult with an experienced probate attorney.
- Preparing to open probate. You will need to obtain an original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament along with several certified copies of the death certificate. Also, look for additional estate planning documents, such as a trust or life insurance policies.
- Inventorying estate assets. You will need to identify, locate, secure, and value all assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. Those assets must then be categorized as probate or non-probate assets because not all assets are required to go through probate.
- Deciding what type of probate is required. Some estates qualify for a small estate alternative to formal probate. If the estate does qualify, the probate process will be much faster and less expensive.
- Initiating probate. As the Executor, you need to submit the original Will along with a petition to open probate to the appropriate probate court in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of death.
- Notifying creditors. Known creditors can be personally notified; however, unknown creditors are notified via publication of the petition to probate in a local newspaper.
- Evaluating creditor claims. Creditors have a limited amount of time within which they must file claims against the estate. As Executor, you must evaluate each claim and approve or deny the claim. Approved claims are paid out of estate assets.
- Defending any challenges. If someone files a Will contest, contesting the validity of the Will submitted to probate, you must defend the Will throughout the ensuing litigation.
- Calculating and paying taxes. All estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. You must file all state and federal tax returns required, and pay any taxes due.
- Transferring assets. Finally, you must prepare the legal documents required to transfer the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Contact Port St. Lucie Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding how to probate an estate, or if you need the assistance of an experienced probate attorney to help you in your role as Executor, contact the experienced Port St. Lucie probate attorneys at Kulas & Crawford by calling (772) 398-0720 to schedule an appointment.