When a loved one passes away, the last thing most people want to think about are the practical and legal ramifications of their loved one’s death. If you were named by the decedent as the Executor of the estate, however, it means that the decedent was counting on you to be able to set aside your grief long enough to oversee the probate of the estate. If you have never before served as an Executor, you may be feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of administering an estate. This is one of the many reasons why it is wise to retain the services of an experienced probate attorney to assist you during the probate process. Nevertheless, it can also be beneficial to gain a better understanding of the job of an Executor. With that in mind, the Rochester probate attorneys at the Law Office of Michael Robinson, P.C. explain many of the most common duties and responsibilities of an Executor:
- Locating, reviewing, and securing estate planning documents. This may include a Will, trust agreement, life insurance policies, and/or Letter of Instruction among others. An original copy of the Will must be located in order to initiate the probate process. Check with family members, in files at the decedent’s residence, and with the family attorney when searching for documents.
- Inventory, secure, and value assets. As soon as possible, you need to complete an inventory of the decedent’s assets, including both tangible and intangible assets. Assets must also be secured which may mean doing things such as closing a financial account or locking up real property. A date of death value will be required for all estate assets as well. For some assets, this may require you to secure the assistance of an appraiser.
- Categorize estate assets. Some assets are classified as “non-probate” assets because they bypass probate altogether. Common examples of non-probate assets include assets held in a trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, and certain types of jointly held property. Once you have categorized all assets, check to see if the estate qualifies for a small estate alternative to formal probate before moving forward.
- Initiate the probate process. If the estate requires formal probate, you must submit the decedent’s original Last Will and Testament to the appropriate Surrogate’s Court (the court that handles probate in New York) along with the probate petition. Along with the Will and probate petition, a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate will need to be filed, as well. A certified copy of the death certificate can be obtained through the New York State Department of Health.
- Identify creditors and pay claims. All potential creditors of the estate must be identified. As the Executor, you must review claims and pay all approved claims, according to priority, using estate assets.
- Defend the estate in litigation. If the estate becomes involved in litigation, such as a Will contest, the Executor of the estate must defend the Will submitted to probate throughout the litigation.
- Prepare, file, and pay estate taxes. All estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. In addition, the State of New York also imposes a state-level estate tax. Both taxes must be calculated and paid, if the estate has a tax obligation due.
- Distribute the remaining assets. Only after all debts of the estate have been paid, including taxes owed to the state and/or federal government, and all litigation involving the estate has been resolved, may you distribute the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Given the complex nature of the probate process, and the amount of time it often takes to probate an estate, most Executors retain the services of an experienced probate attorney. Doing so also dramatically reduces the likelihood of making costly errors.
Contact Rochester Probate Attorneys
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of an Executor, contact the Rochester probate attorneys at the Law Office of Michael Robinson, P.C. by calling (585) 546-1734 to schedule an appointment.