If you recently lost a family member, or someone else close to you, you are undoubtedly going through a difficult time full of strong emotions. If the decedent named you as the Executor of his/her estate, you may be wondering how you can possibly focus on the practical and legal aspects of probate when you are still grieving the loss of your loved one, particularly if this is the first-time you have served as an Executor. It certainly will not be easy; however, with the advice and guidance of your loved ones, along with an experienced probate attorney, you can fulfill your duties and responsibilities as Executor. To help you get started in that role, the Lincolnshire probate attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. have put together some tips for the first-time Executor.
If you have never before been directly involved in the probate of an estate, you need to have a basic understanding of what probate is and why it is required. When an individual dies, he or she leaves behind an estate that consists of all assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. The legal process that follows the death of an individual is referred to as “probate.” The ultimate goal of probate is to distribute the decedent’s estate assets to intended beneficiaries or legal heirs of the estate. In addition, probate ensures that all assets owned by the decedent are identified, located, and valued and that all creditors of the estate are given the opportunity to file claims against the estate. Finally, any taxes owed to the state and/or federal government are also calculated and paid during the probate process.
What Is an Executor?
When a decedent left behind a Last Will and Testament, the estate is referred to as a “testate” estate. If no Will was executed prior to death, the estate is an “intestate” estate. The Executor is the individual named by the Testator (creator) of a Will to oversee the administration of the Testator’s estate during the probate process.
Tips for the New Executor
If you find yourself named as the Executor of the estate of a recently deceased loved one, and you have never before served as an Executor, the following tips may help you to perform your duties and responsibilities during the probate of the estate:
- Do not go it alone. Unless the estate is so small it qualifies for a small estate alternative to formal probate, you likely need the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that the estate is probated properly and that you do not make any costly mistakes.
- Do gather all documents before opening probate. Most estate plans include more than just a Will. Ask a spouse, child, or estate planning attorney if they are aware of additional estate planning documents, such as life insurance policies, trust agreements, or a funeral planning contract.
- Do not mistake non-probate assets for probate assets. Not all assets are required to go through probate. Make sure you properly categorize assets before you get started with the probate process.
- Do make sure you properly notify all creditors. The law requires you to notify unknown creditors via publication in a local newspaper. You are also required to wait the statutory time period for creditors to file claims before you can close probate and/or distribute assets.
- Do not forget about estate taxes. All estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. Be sure to seek the assistance of a tax professional to ensure that you have properly calculated and paid any state and/or federal tax obligations due before you distribute the remaining estate assets to beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Contact Lincolnshire Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the role of Executor, or if you recently learned you are the Executor of an estate and would like assistance with the probate of the estate, contact the experienced Lincolnshire estate planning and probate attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.