How to help your Executor by being prepared – Part 2

 

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Can you perform the Executor’s job yourself?

If you are the surviving spouse or a child, you have many other things to do during an emotional time. Do you have the aptitude and motivation to see the Probate process through?

As you might already know, the probate process can take anywhere from 4 months to upwards of 2 years. Most of this time will be spent waiting for things, however, there are applications and timelines that need to be tracked and requests for information to follow up on.

The Executor is responsible for finalizing the affairs of the deceased person. This involves such things as paying off bills, closing accounts, contacting creditors, banks and government agencies, appraising and selling assets, including real estate, filing a final tax return and distributing remaining assets to inheritors.

Consider your aptitude, motivation or emotional state when you accept the job of an Executor. If the deceased person has a Will and if any estate planning was done, the Executor’s job may be straightforward. Also, if there is a surviving spouse most assets will pass to the surviving spouse. If so, that will also make the process easier.

Even though the law does not require an executor to be a legal or financial expert, it does require what is called “fiduciary duty” – meaning that this is a serious undertaking and requires the highest degree of integrity, honesty and attention.

Even though you were chosen as the Executor, you do not have to do this job. The court can appoint someone else to be the Executor.

Generally, Executors tend to be family members and aren’t usually paid unless the estate is large and or complicated.

You may also want to consult or hire an attorney to help you through Probate (Check out these blog posts about Probate: Part 1 and Part 2). If so, this can be an expensive proposition depending on whether there is a Will or if the Will is contested. If the Will is contested, you will likely need an attorney. Most professionals charge by the hour and some may charge a percentage of the estate.

Reasons to hire an attorney

  • You don’t have the time or desire to be an Executor
  • If you live in a County other than the County of the decedent, a different State or Overseas, you will need to appear at the County Probate Court one or more times. This is a very good reason to hire a local attorney. Some states may also have requirements about having local representation.
  • If the Will is being contested or you are sure it will be contested.
  • If the Will is complicated
    • It’s a large estate, estate tax considerations need to be taken into account
    • It’s a complex family structure with children and spouses from multiple marriages
    • Trusts and other entities may have been setup and you need specific expertise

Things You Can Do

1 Start a calendar and keep track of dates when you (the Executor) need to appear in Court or send things in to the Court or to other parties.
2 Start a filing system. The probate process involves a lot of paperwork.   Keep copies of everything you send to anyone, including banks, customer service departments, government agencies and so forth.
3 If the estate is compensating you for your time, keep track of your hours and receipts.
4 If you are in possession of the Will, the Will must be turned into the Court within a short time after death.   States also require that the Probate process be started within a certain period after death. Check you States requirements.File the Will if there is one and a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate with the Court. Most states have a Probate Court website where you can download a copy of the Probate Application.
5 Someone (the Executor) files a petition or application for Probate. Many States Courts have Probate forms online and explain what is required when you file the petition. These should be filed in the County of the Decedent’s (the person who died) primary residence.
6 Determine if you can follow the simple Estate process (very little assets, spouse inherits everything).   Check your State’s process or consult the court. Courts have help lines!
7 Get a credit report of the deceased. If you don’t know the person’s financial accounts, this will speed up the process of finding accounts instead of waiting for bills to arrive in the mail.   You can get a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com. [get link]
8 Close all digital accounts, especially ones with auto pay or bill pay set up. If there are any accounts that withdraw directly from a bank account, suspend the payment until you figure out what needs to be done.
9 You need to notify all the inheritors and creditors you know about and any secondary or tertiary Executor’s named in the Will. This is usually called a Citation. It notifies all interesting parties of a Probate proceeding.
10 Do not agree to pay any creditors or negotiate any settlement, especially if assets automatically transfer to a surviving spouse.   Unless the debts were held together, such as a joint credit card or a mortgage, the debts do not transfer to the survivor. Check with your accountant or attorney for clarification.

Do you like this article?  Let me know your #1 takeaway in the comments section below.

Jasmine Alexander is the Founder and CEO of www.jazmine.com, an online organizer that safely stores personal records, account numbers, ownership documents and everything in between. Jasmine has a B.S. in Computer Science from New York University and a M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson School of Management.  

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