It’s always difficult when a loved one dies, but coping with that sense of loss is often made even more difficult during the estate settlement process. This is especially true for those who have been named to serve as an executor for the will. For many executors, probate can be a nightmarishly complex process that wears on them emotionally, mentally, and even physically. And since the average executor often tries to manage these complex duties on his or her own, the stress can last for many months or even years. Fortunately, a probate lawyer can make it easier to learn to love the probate process.
Probate is Not a Bad Thing
It’s vital to recognize that “probate” shouldn’t be a scary word. We all die eventually, and most of us don’t even have a will when that happens. Even fewer use trusts or any of the other ownership titling techniques that can enable property to be automatically transferred to its owners. It’s even rare that any of us die without any outstanding debts that need to be settled. Without a process to sort through all that, how would society ensure that creditors were paid and heirs received the inheritance to which they might be entitled?
Probate was created to help resolve these issues and settle estates in a way that comports with existing law. Without probate, estates could be preyed upon by the most unsavory elements of society. Widows and surviving children might be powerless to enforce their inheritance rights, and your last wishes would have little power to enforce themselves. The probate process provides an orderly way to address those concerns, as a court oversees the estate settlement effort to ensure that the rights of all interested parties are properly protected.
Knowledge About Probate Can Help Ease the Stress
Probate can be better appreciated when you have at least a basic understanding about how things proceed. As an executor, you’ll be right in the thick of the probate action, and that can make it difficult to recognize just how orderly the process really is. There is a simple way to understand how probate unfolds, since everything occurs in a specific order for a reason:
- You first need to petition the court to be recognized as the executor. Without that court approval, you’ll have no real legal authority to act. You’ll need the certificate of death and the decedent’s will to get this approval.
- Next, you should begin to gather the deceased’s assets so that you can secure and protect them. Have those assets appraised.
- Notify the beneficiaries and potential creditors. You can locate many creditors by referring to the decedent’s bills and personal records, but should post a notice in a newspaper as well. That enables those creditors to file claims for any unpaid debts.
- Open a checking account. Liquidate assets where necessary.
- Review creditor claims and pay any valid debts.
- File the deceased’s final tax returns and pay any taxes that may be due. That includes estate taxes, if applicable.
- Prepare a final accounting that includes an inventory of assets and their value. Submit these documents to the court, along with a request to distribute the remaining assets to heirs. When that is accomplished, the court will formally close the deceased’s estate.
As you can see, the process itself is fairly straightforward: get appointed as executor, secure assets, locate and pay creditors, pay taxes, and distribute whatever’s left. That seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately, the process can take anywhere from half a year to several years, depending on how things proceed. That time commitment can be a problem for many executors, and can cause additional stress that is often exacerbated by impatient heirs, challenges from creditors and others, and problems that can occur during asset liquidation efforts.
In addition, many people struggle to deal with issues related to the decedent’s passing. Even simple things like dealing with banks can be more complex in the aftermath of a loved one’s death – like when a bank freezes a decedent’s accounts and the executor is not sure how to proceed. Those types of unexpected complications can make the process seem far more complex than it needs to be.
Relieving the Stress
Many experts have a simple bit of advice that can help to reduce much of that stress: don’t take on your executor role on your own. By law, you’re entitled to get help with your duties, and charge those expenses to the estate. That means that you can hire experts to assist you with the most difficult aspects of the process:
- Retain an appraiser to determine the value of the decedent’s assets.
- Hire an accountant to help keep track of the finances.
- Consult with a tax expert to prepare the final tax returns.
- Work with a probate attorney to ensure that every part of the process goes according to plan.
By relying on a team of experts to help you navigate the probate minefield, you don’t just reduce your own stress and simplify the estate settlement effort. You also give yourself an added level of protection to ensure that you don’t make mistakes that might leave your own personal assets vulnerable to a lawsuit. A competent lawyer can be especially invaluable in that regard, as he or she can ensure that you cover all the right legal bases every step of the way.
Embracing the Process
While it’s easy for many people to get frustrated with probate, that frustration won’t prevent it from remaining a vital part of many people’s lives. When you’re named as an executor, it’s important to do everything that you can to ensure that you don’t allow yourself to get bogged down by the stress and time-consuming commitment. At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, our probate experts can help you remain as stress-free as possible by guiding and assisting you with your estate settlement duties. We may not be able to actually make you love the probate process, but we can at least do our part to help you have a reason not to hate it. To find out more about how we can help you, call today at (317) 684-1100, or contact us at our website.
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.