The Last Will and Testament is a powerful tool for expressing a person’s last wishes. With it, a decedent can declare who gets his assets, name a guardian for his children, and even provide directions about how he’d like them to be raised. One of the most important powers that a will provides, however, is the power to name an executor to oversee the settling of his estate. If you’ve been named as the executor of a will, then you may only now be starting to understand the enormity of the responsibility you’ve been given. Before you undertake that awesome responsibility, it’s important to get the facts about the duties you’ll be expected to perform.
A Word About Your Fiduciary Duty…
One thing that you should understand as you move forward is that you’ve been entrusted with an important task. That task comes with many duties, but none are more important than the fiduciary duty that you now owe to the estate. Florida law charges you with the duty to ensure that all of your actions and decisions are made with the best interests of the estate in mind. That’s an important thing to keep in mind as you fulfill all of the more specific duties your executor role requires.
Contacting the Court
Once you’ve determined that probate is necessary, you need to present a copy of the will and death certificate to the probate court in the county where the decedent lived at the time of death. Along with those documents, you need to file a request for Letters of Administration from the court, which basically acknowledge you as the estate’s personal representative and empower you to take the actions needed to settle the entire estate.
You’ll need to create an account for the estate and transfer the decedent’s money and funds from asset liquidation into that account so that you can use it to pay off any debts that he or she may have owed. You will be gathering assets so that they can be properly inventoried and appraised, and should maintain a written record of all assets and their value. Sometimes you can accomplish this task by using the deceased’s own records. Other times, it may require more research. Once the assets are appraised, you should be able to estimate a total estate value, which you will later use to determine what taxes are due.
You have to locate the deceased’s creditors by formally notifying known creditors and posting a notice to provide other potential creditors an opportunity to file claims against the estate. As you identify valid debts, you use the estate’s assets to pay them. You’ll also need to determine how much the decedent owes in state, local, and federal taxes, and file any needed returns. If the estate is large enough, you may also need to contend with estate tax obligations.
Part of your duty as executor also involves the protection of the assets you identify and gather. It is your responsibility to safeguard those assets’ value and take reasonable steps to ensure that they do not lose value while they are in your care. That sometimes means selling assets that are likely to lose value in the immediate future. It can also mean investing prudently to provide other assets the opportunity to increase in value.
Once all debts and taxes are paid, you then distribute the assets to the beneficiaries of the will in accordance with his express wishes as revealed in that document. With that said, however, it is important to recognize that there are certain instances in which you may need to ignore parts of that will. For example, Florida has protections in place to prevent anyone from disinheriting a spouse. Children often receive similar protections. So, if the decedent has decided to disinherit his loved ones, you should consult with a probate attorney to see whether those wishes can be honored. No matter what the will says, the protections afforded by Florida law must be enforced.
When all is said and done, you must supply a final report to the court detailing the actions you have taken to help settle the estate. Include an inventory of assets, how much they were worth, and how you chose to distribute them. All of this is done as part of your formal request to have the court officially close the estate.
Getting the Right Help
As you may have noticed throughout that list of duties, there are a number of areas of responsibility that call for specific skill sets that many executors simply do not have. Assets must be appraised, and that may require you to retain an appraisal expert. Detailed accounting must be conducted, and taxes need to be calculated. You may want to retain an accountant or tax specialist to perform these duties. Investments may need to be made, and you might choose to hire a professional to advise you with those decisions.
In addition, you should decide whether or not you need to retain an attorney’s services. As a general rule, probate court clerks can provide help with common queries concerning things like procedures and filing requirements. They won’t typically be able to provide legal advice, however – and they certainly won’t be any help when it comes to dealing with the specific legal concerns surrounding any particular case.
Your best option for getting the specific help you need to deal with probate questions and executor duties is to deal directly with an experienced probate attorney. At Robert Kulas Attorneys at Law, we can provide the guidance and assistance you need to effectively navigate the probate process maze and efficiently settle any estate without major complications. We understand that every case is different, and can provide you with as much or as little legal help as you need to ensure that you meet all the obligations you face as the executor of a will. To learn more about how you can benefit from our services, visit us online or call today at (772) 398-0720.