If you recently lost a family member or loved one, the last thing you may wish to think about are the practical and legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. If, however, you were named as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, you are obligated to focus on the probate of the estate. If you have never served as the Executor of an estate before, you may not know where to start. Although no two estates are exactly the same, there are some common steps you will likely need to take when you probate a Will. If you have specific questions or concerns about the estate you are probating, consult with an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney right away.
Steps Involved When You Probate a Will
- Locate an original Last Will and Testament. You may have been informed that you are the Executor of the estate. You must, however, locate an original copy of the decedent’s Will to confirm this. In addition, you will need the original Will to when you open probate.
- Conduct a preliminary inventory. As soon after learning of your appointment as possible, take a preliminary inventory of estate assets to get an idea of the type of assets involved and the overall value of the estate.
- Secure assets. Do what you can to secure and preserve assets. This may include anything from locking up a house to closing a financial account.
- Categorize assets. Not all assets are required to go through the probate process. For this reason, you need to categorize all estate assets as “probate” or “non-probate” assets.
- Decide what type of probate is required. Most states offer an alternative to probate for small estates that is intended to streamline the probate process and save the estate money. As the Executor, you need to determine if the estate qualifies for an alternative to formal probate.
- Hire a probate attorney. If you have not yet done so, and the estate will require formal probate, it is time to hire a probate attorney to assist you. Of course, you can retain an attorney even if the estate qualifies for small estate administration; however, the need for legal assistance is even greater of formal probate is required.
- Open probate. If the estate requires formal probate, you need to initiate the process by filing a petition to probate along with an original copy of the decedent’s Will.
- Notify creditors. Known creditors may be notified personally; however, unknown creditors must also be notified. This is accomplished by publishing a copy of the petition to probate in a local newspaper.
- Review creditor claims. Creditors have a specific amount of time within which to file a claim against the estate. The Executor must review each claim and approve or deny the claim.
- Pay approved claims. All approved claims are paid out of estate assets. If sufficient liquid asset.s do not exist to pay all claims, estate assets must be sold to raise the necessary funds. If sufficient assets to do exist to pay all claims of the estate, claims are paid in order of priority as determined by law.
- Litigate any challenges. Sometimes the validity of the Will submitted for probate is challenged. If that happens, the Executor has a duty to defend the Will throughout the subsequent litigation.
- Calculate taxes. All estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. Some estates are also subject to state estate taxes. Any exposure to either tax must be calculated and any tax debt must be paid.
- Submit a final inventory. If required by the court, a final inventory must be created and filed with the court.
- Transfer assets. Any assets remaining in the estate at the end of the probate process must be legally transferred to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
If you have additional questions or concerns the duties and responsibilities you may have as the Executor of an estate when you probate a Will, contact the experienced Illinois estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.