If you are named as the executor of the estate, you will have a long list of other duties. One of the first things that you will want to do is to contact a knowledgeable probate attorney. He or she can guide you through this process and explain your legal duties. If the value of your loved one’s probate estate is less than the limit for small estates, you may be able to skip the probate process and prepare affidavits to present to companies or people who have your loved one’s assets. The probate attorney can explain whether small estate administration is possible or if you need to open a probate case.
Submit the Will to Probate Court
If your loved one had a will, your lawyer will prepare a petition for the court to open a probate case. Probate is opened in the county where your loved one lived. If your loved one did not have a will, you still open a probate case and the court names an administrator to manage the estate, usually with preference to the surviving spouse and children.
Identify Your Loved One’s Property
You will be responsible for creating an inventory of your loved one’s estate, so you will need to find out about your loved one’s assets and debts. Go through your loved one’s paperwork and any instructions he or she left to this effect. Also, check tax returns for listed assets. Some important organizations to contact for more information include:
· The decedent’s mortgage company: Ask for the total payoff amount and make a plan to make current payments while the probate case is pending.
· The decedent’s bank: Inquire about any accounts and safe deposit boxes at the bank in the decedent’s name. Your loved one may have named a payable on death beneficiary to receive the balance of anything in his or her account at the time of death. In that case, the named beneficiary can close the account and receive the balance. He or she will probably need to provide a death certificate and identification.
· The decedent’s investment adviser or stockbroker: If your loved one had investment accounts, contact his or her investment adviser or stockbroker to learn about holdings and to help make necessary transfers to any named beneficiaries.
· The decedent’s accountant: He or she may have additional information on other assets or liabilities. Additionally, he or she can help prepare a final income tax return.
Prepare an Inventory
After you have all of the necessary information, you can begin listing the assets and debts of your loved one. Your attorney can help with this process. You will need to submit this information to the probate court.
Open an Estate Bank Account
During the probate process, you will need to pay bills and receive benefits on behalf of the estate, so you will likely need to open a checking account for the estate to handle these transactions.
You will need to provide notice to family members, heirs at law, and creditors of your appointment as executor and your loved one’s death. This notice must usually contain specific language, based on your state’s probate laws. Your probate attorney can explain what needs to be included in this notice. You may also
be required to publish the notice in one or two local newspapers for a specific period to notify unknown creditors and others who may have claims against the estate.
Pay Bills and Claims
Creditors may submit claims. You will need to evaluate these and determine that they are valid before paying them. You will also be responsible for safeguarding property and paying ongoing bills, such as utility payments and car payments.
Close credit card accounts and credit lines and any accounts solely in the decedent’s name that do not have a pay on death beneficiary. You will likely need to submit a death certificate to close the account. Keep records of closed accounts. Deposit any funds received from closing these accounts in the estate’s account.
Address Digital Assets
Your loved one may have had a variety of digital assets, including:
· Airline and hotel rewards and points.
· Data saved on devices and in the cloud.
· Hardware such as laptops, tablets, phones and external storage devices.
· If your loved one left instructions on these accounts, do your best to honor his or her wishes, such as setting up a memorial on a social media account or transferring digital assets to certain people.
The last task that you will have is to distribute property. If there is a will, you will distribute the property according to its instructions after paying on valid claims. If there is not a will, you will distribute the remaining property following state law.
Close the Estate
Your probate attorney will help you prepare the necessary legal documents to summarize the work you have done with the estate and to receive permission to close the estate.
For my booklet, “A Guide to Putting Your Affairs in Order, scan the QR code below or call our office and ask for Catalina to send you a copy: