No one who’s ever served as an executor to an estate would ever suggest that the job is always simple. You don’t have to have experienced the complications that can arise during a complex estate settlement process to understand how major problems can occur. If you’re an executor who suddenly finds yourself face-to-face with the probate process, chances are that you’re experiencing more than a little anxiety about the whole thing. The last thing you want to do is become so anxious that you allow yourself to be paralyzed with fear. The truth is that the process doesn’t have to be a scary one. In fact, there is a way to effectively manage probate, if you can remember these ten simply steps.
Gather the Right Documents
Make sure that you secure the decedent’s Last Will, as well as copies of the death certificate. You’ll need the right documentation to get probate started, and those death certificates will be needed whenever you need to prove to different government entities and other organizations that the decedent is truly dead.
Get Court Approval
With those documents in hand, you need to file a request with the probate court to be recognized as the will’s executor. The court will then provide you with the authority you need to conduct all the various tasks required for properly settling the decedent’s estate.
It’s always critical to get organized to ensure that the process is as simple as possible. Open a bank account for the estate so that you’ll have a way to pay the decedent’s bills and outstanding debts. Gather all documents and digital records. Create a system for maintaining a record of all transactions and activities.
Gather Assets and Protect Them
You’ll also need to gather all assets and take custody of them on behalf of the estate. These assets will need to be appraised so that you can create an inventory that details everything of value in the estate, and its worth. This should be filed with the court, as well as other interested parties as defined by law. To fulfill your fiduciary duty to beneficiaries, you should take steps to protect estate assets. If investments need to be managed, take care to address that issue as well.
Notify Beneficiaries and Creditors
You’ll also need to send out notifications to both beneficiaries and creditors. That means that you’ll have to locate the beneficiaries named in the will, as well as creditors who may have claims on some portion of the estate. Some creditors can be identified from the decedent’s records. Others will need to be notified through a general notice published in the local paper. In the state of Indiana, these creditors have a total of three months in which to levy any claims.
Retain Expert Assistance as Needed
Appraisal, accounting, and tax preparation may involve skills that you lack. The law allows you to hire specialists to assist you if necessary. Don’t be afraid to get that help, since it can help you to avoid mistakes that could leave you liable for legal action later.
Evaluate Creditor Claims and Pay Debts
After you’ve provided notification to creditors, you’ll need to assess any claims that they levy against the estate. While most of the claims will be legitimate, you still have a duty to evaluate them for authenticity before you pay them. Once you’ve determined that any claim is valid, you should pay it using funds from the estate account. Note that this may in certain circumstances require some assets to be liquidated to free up money for debt resolution.
Calculate and Pay any Taxes Due
Taxes must be dealt with as well. You will need to prepare the decedent’s final income tax returns and file them with the appropriate level of government. If taxes are due, you’ll need to pay those obligations using estate funds. For larger estates, you’ll also have to determine whether estate taxes are due. If the estate owes such taxes, you’ll have to pay those as well. Again, this may require that certain assets be liquidated to provide the funds needed for meeting that debt.
Ask the Court to Distribute Inheritances
When all debts and taxes have been paid and the allotted timeframe for filing debtor claims has expired, you will be able to notify the court and request that inheritances be released to the beneficiaries so that the estate can be formally closed. The court will then issue a decree that allows the remaining assets to be released to the heirs. Your role is to follow that order and distribute all assets in accordance with the provisions in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. Once that is accomplished, the court will formally close the estate and probate will be completed.
Collect Any Fees that You Might Be Owed
In Indiana, executors are entitled to be paid for their services, even if the Will makes no such provision. Despite that allowance, many executors refuse to accept payment – especially when they’re related to the decedent or are a beneficiary of the will. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to take advantage of your right to receive payment or refuse the fees and simply perform the service without remuneration.
Get the Help You Need!
As noted, executors have the authority to hire experts as needed. That includes expert legal assistance to guide them through the probate process and ensure that their interests are protected. If you’re at all hesitant about any aspect of the probate process, it’s a good idea to look to an experienced attorney to provide the guidance and assistance you need. At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, our probate experts can provide that assistance and help to simplify the probate process so that you avoid the most common problems and challenges. We can offer limited or more comprehensive assistance, depending on your unique needs and the complexity of the estate. To discover how we can help you more easily manage probate, 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.