When a family member or loved one passes away it can be extremely difficult to concentrate on anything for some time afterward. If, however, you find yourself in charge of the estate of a recently deceased loved one, it is important that you focus on the job you have been entrusted to do. To help you avoid making any costly mistakes, the Lincolnshire probate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. discuss some of the most common probate mistakes.
Probate Mistakes to Avoid
If the decedent left behind a Last Will and Testament, the individual named as the Executor in that Will is responsible for overseeing the probate process. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, someone will typically volunteer to be the Personal Representative of the estate and oversee the probate process. If you find yourself acting as the Executor or Personal Representative of an estate, be aware of the following common mistakes so that you can avoid making them:
- Not using small estate administration alternatives. Most states, including Illinois, offer a small estate administration alternative to formal probate for estates that qualify. If the estate qualifies for small estate administration it will save both time and money; however, you must recognize fairly quickly that the estate may be eligible for this option for the estate – and beneficiaries – to benefit from avoiding formal probate. In Illinois, only an estate with less than $100,000 in personal property can use a small estate alternative. There are also additional eligibility requirements you must know and check on before being certain the estate qualifies.
- Failing to properly categorize probate and non-probate assets. Not all assets are probate assets. Non-probate assets bypass the probate process altogether and, therefore, may be distributed to beneficiaries immediately after the decedent’s death. Trust assets, certain types of jointly held property, and proceeds of a life insurance policy are just a few examples of non-probate assets. Failing to properly categorize assets can hold up the entire probate process; particularly if the estate might otherwise qualify for small estate administration.
- Failing to properly notify creditors. The law requires an Executor/PR to notify creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Known creditors can be notified individually; however, you must also publish notice of the probate in a local newspaper. Moreover, creditors have a statutory time period within which they may file claims, meaning assets cannot be distributed until that time frame has come and gone.
- Failing to properly calculate federal gift and estate taxes. Every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. In addition, a handful of states also impose a state level version of gift and estate taxes – and Illinois is one of them. You should make an initial determination at the beginning of the probate process as to whether the estate is likely to owe gift and estate taxes. By doing that, you are in a better position to review claims against the estate down the road in the event that the estate lacks sufficient assets to pay all claims.
- Not retaining the assistance of professionals. While there are some estates that are small enough and simplistic enough that the assistance of professionals may not be necessary; however, probating most estates is a time-consuming process that requires legal and financial expertise that the average person does not have. Retaining the services of an estate planning attorney, accountant, appraisers, and other professionals are usually the best way to ensure that costly and time-consuming mistakes are avoided.
Contact Lincolnshire Probate Attorneys
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the probate process, or mistakes to avoid during the probate process, contact the experienced Lincolnshire probate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.