Probate is a legal process that the average person knows very little about unless they have been through the process following the death of a loved one. If the decedent left behind a Last Will and Testament, the person in charge of overseeing the probate of the estate is the person named as Executor in that Will. If you find yourself named as the Executor of an estate, you may wonder what powers you have. To help you better understand what you can, and cannot do, a Carmel probate attorney at Frank & Kraft explains the powers of the Executor of a Will.
Over the course of a lifetime, almost everyone acquires assets that comprise their estate at the time of their death. Some people amass a huge estate that includes complex and valuable assets while other people own little more than their personal possessions at the time of death. Regardless of the size and value of assets owned by a decedent, those assets must be identified, valued, and passed down to the new owners. That is the primary purpose of the legal process known as probate. Before those assets are passed down, however, there are a number of steps an Executor must oversee during the probate process.
The duties and responsibilities an Executor has are numerous and varied. Consequently, so are the powers an Executor has. The Testator of a Last Will and Testament appoints someone to be the Executor of his/her estate in that Will. The probate court, however, must officially confirm that appointment at the beginning of the probate process. As such, one of the most important powers an Executor has is the power to initiate the probate of the estate. To do that, the Executor submits the original Will along with a petition to open probate and a request to be named as the Executor of the estate. When the court approves the appointment, the court will issue “Letters Testamentary.” Letters Testamentary is the legal document that orders the Executor to take control of the decedent’s estate and that provides the Executor with his/her powers throughout the probate process. Some of the powers an Executor has during the probate of an estate include:
- Securing assets – one of the first things an Executor must do is to identify and secure all estate assets. This may mean anything from simply closing a financial account to taking possession of real property and securing the property.
- Hire professionals – the Executor may need to retain the services of professionals, such as a probate attorney, accountant, appraiser, or real estate agent.
- Approving or denying claims – creditors of the estate may submit claims. The Executor then reviews those claims and approves or denies each claim.
- Paying bills and debts – the Executor has the power to pay approved claims using estate assets as well as paying bills submitted by professionals retained to assist during the probate process.
- Defending the estate – if someone contests the decedent’s Will, or the estate becomes involved in litigation for any other reason, the Executor has the power and the duty to defend the estate.
- Selling assets – sometimes, an estate lacks sufficient liquid assets to pay all outstanding claims and debts of the estate. When that is the case, the Executor has to sell estate assets to raise the necessary funds.
- Transferring assets – at the end of the probate process, the Executor has the authority to prepare any necessary legal documents needed to transfer the remaining assets to the beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Contact a Carmel Probate Attorney
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about the probate process in general, or the probate of a specific estate, contact an experienced Carmel probate attorney at Frank & Kraft by calling (317) 684-1100 to schedule an appointment.