If you live in Indiana and have been named as an executor for a loved one’s estate, the task at hand can seem more than a little daunting. Chances are that your family member assigned you that grave responsibility because you were trusted to do the right thing by managing his or her affairs in a responsible manner. The burden involved in executing those responsibilities can create a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress, especially when the process of estate administration is something that is unfamiliar to you. And when it comes to the Indiana probate process, there are many things that executors need to know.
The Indiana Probate Process
Before you can be formally recognized as the estate’s executor, you have to be appointed by an Indiana probate court. To accomplish that feat, you must bring the original copy of the deceased’s Last Will and Testament to the appropriate court – which will be the court in the county where the deceased lived. Along with the will, you must also bring a Petition for Probate. When the court recognizes you as the will’s executor, you will be given Letters of Probate that give you legal authority to manage the estate’s debts and assets.
In cases where the administration of the estate is to be supervised by the court, you will have to create an inventory of the estate’s assets and debts. That inventory should be used to determine which assets are subject to probate and which have been titled in a way that enables their transfer outside of the probate process. This inventory will need to be filed with the court before any action to deal with liabilities or asset distribution can be taken. In instances where no supervision is required, this inventory is unnecessary.
Depending on the nature of the assets involved at this stage of the process, you may need to retain the services of specialists. Since your inventory should include information about the estimated value of the assets, you may need to hire an independent appraiser. The estate assets can be used to pay for those services, of course.
It will also be your job to notify all of the beneficiaries named in the will, provide them with a copy of the inventory of assets, and publish a formal creditor notice in the local newspaper. Upon publication of that notice, any creditors that want to levy claims against the estate will have three months in which to do so. Any creditor who fail to file those claims within that three-month period will lose their ability to make such claims in the future. You will also need to use the estate to pay any taxes that may due.
Beyond that, you must also make every effort to locate the decedent’s creditors on your own. Under state law, you are expected to make all reasonable efforts to identify these creditors and provide them with the notice they need to file their claims. This is typically accomplished by reviewing the deceased’s financial documents.
It is important to ensure that all debts are properly settled before asset dispersal can begin. You will be expected to use the assets in the estate to settle all outstanding medical bills, as well as funeral expenses.
Once assets are used to settle debts and liabilities, you will then be tasked with the responsibility of distributing the estate’s assets. This distribution should occur as quickly as possible, and must be done in accordance with the decedent’s wishes as expressed in the Last Will and Testament. Once all assets have been distributed, you must provide the court with the full details of the estate transactions so that the estate can be formally closed. This is accomplished by providing a final accounting of the actions you have taken, and filing a petition to settle the estate.
Along with the specific functions that you must fulfill, you will also have other duties that are more fundamental in nature. Chief among these is your fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate. Because you are provided with extraordinary power over the disposition of the deceased’s property, Indiana state law will hold you to a high standard if your actions are ever challenged in court. This fiduciary duty requires several things from you in your capacity as an executor:
- You must perform your duties in an honest manner, exercising good faith at every turn.
- You are expected to place the beneficiaries’ interests first and above your own.
- It is expected that you will take no action designed to enrich yourself, including using the assets for your own personal benefit.
- You are expected to keep beneficiaries apprised of your progress, notify creditors, and satisfy all other requirements the court may deem necessary.
- You must manage the affairs of the estate in a transparent manner.
If you fail to perform any of those duties properly, the court may be forced to take action to consider your removal from the executor position. It is thus wise to be as forthcoming as possible when beneficiaries demand transparency, to minimize the possibility that they may seek your removal. It is also essential that you maintain contact with the court as required, so that you avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Getting Outside Help
For many people who are named as executors, the complexities involved in managing the dissolution of a loved one’s estate can be too much to handle on their own. To avoid mistakes and to ensure that all beneficiaries are best-served throughout probate, executors often seek professional legal assistance to aid them in the fulfillment of their responsibilities. A competent probate attorney can provide that assistance.
At Frank & Kraft Attorneys at Law, our expertise in probate matters can help you better manage your executor duties. We can help you to navigate the complex probate process and protect your interests as you discharge your executor responsibilities. Give us a call at (317) 684-1100 or contact us online today to learn more about how our legal team can assist you.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.