Were you notified that a recently deceased loved one named you as the Executor of his or her estate? If so, you may be struggling to focus on the duties and responsibilities an Executor has during the probate of an estate giving the fact that you are undoubtedly also still grieving the loss of your loved one. If you have never served as an Executor before, you may not even know where to begin. To help you organize your responsibilities, the Lincolnshire estate planning lawyers at Hedeker Law, Ltd. have put together an Executor’s checklist that you may find beneficial.
How Did I End Up As the Executor?
When a Testator creates and executes a Last Will and Testament, one of the most important decisions that must be made is who to appoint as the Executor of the estate. Because most people don’t really understand what the duties and responsibilities of an Executor are, they often appoint a spouse, family member, or close friend without truly considering if that person is the best person for the job. They also frequently fail to discuss the appointment with the intended Executor to make sure the individual is willing to serve. Consequently, it is hardly unusual for someone, such as yourself, to end up as the Executor of an estate without any prior knowledge and without agreeing to serve in the position. Keep in mind, however, that the decedent clearly had a considerable amount of faith and trust in your abilities.
Whether you are a reluctant first-time Executor or a seasoned professional, it never hurts to have a checklist to make sure you aren’t forgetting something important.
- Locate original Will. You must have an original copy of the Will for the probate court. Check with family members, in the decedent’s files, or with the decedent’s estate planning attorney.
- Search for additional estate planning documents. Specifically, look for a trust agreement, life insurance policies, Letter of Instructions, and any other relevant documents.
- Order certified death certificates. You will need a certified copy for probate. You will also likely need copies to close accounts and access assets.
- Start identifying and securing probate assets. Make a list of all known assets and begin securing them. Financial accounts should be closed. Real estate should be locked and secured. Personal assets should be moved to one location and secured. No one should have access to any estate assets until you have determined which assets are probate assets and which are non-probate assets.
- Consult with estate planning attorney. Do not try and probate the estate without help. An experienced estate planning attorney will help you through the process and ensure that costly mistakes are not made along the way.
- Determine what type of probate is needed. Not all estates require formal probate. If the estate qualifies for a small estate alternative it will save both time and money.
- Notify beneficiaries. Because the decedent died testate, meaning with a valid Will in place, all beneficiaries of the estate should be identified in the Will unless a trust agreement was also located. In that case, the beneficiaries of the trust agreement will also need to be notified.
- Open probate. Probate generally occurs in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death. You will need a Petition to Open Probate along with an original copy of the Will and a certified copy of the death certificate.
- Open an estate bank account. As the Executor, you will need to pay probate expenses, maintenance and upkeep costs, and taxes out of the estate account.
- Maintain assets. You will be responsible for any maintenance and/or upkeep of estate assets until they are transferred to beneficiaries.
- Notify creditors. Known creditors can be personally notified. Unknown creditors are notified via publication in a local newspaper.
- Pay taxes. You must determine if the estate owes and federal and/or state gift and estate taxes. Tax returns must be filed and any tax obligation paid.
- Distribute assets. As the Executor, you must prepare any legal documents necessary to effectuate the transfer of the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries.
Contact Lincolnshire Estate Planning Lawyers
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding serving as an Executor, contact the experienced Lincolnshire estate planning lawyers at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.