Probate & Estate Administration
Probate and estate administration procedures are never described with any of the following terms: speedy, quick, fast or fun. The adjectives most commonly used are slow, tedious, time-consuming … well, you get the picture.
The entire process could take as long as six months to even years. Remember, patience is critical for all concerned. Having some expectation of the snail-like pace usually gives folks a better tolerance for the creakingly slow turning of the wheels of justice.
With that in mind, here are some of the duties an executor has throughout the probate and estate administration process. Generally speaking, the executor is tasked with collecting and managing the estate assets, filing tax returns and paying taxes and debts, as well as distributing assets and making the distributions of any bequests detailed in the will.
Initially, the executor must:
search the decedent’s personal files and papers for any evidence of potential creditors;
look at the decedent’s checking account for recurring payments which may indicate an existing debt;
contact the decedent’s credit card companies; and
contact the decedent’s healthcare providers for medical bills.
Probate the Will
Next, the executor must “probate” the will. If the court declares the will validly executed under state law, then the court gives the executor authority to perform his or her duties under the provisions of the will.
The executor must pay any claims of the estate’s creditors and all estate administration expenses. He or she must also collect all of the estate assets, then file and pay all required tax returns. These may include federal and state income taxes, in addition to estate and inheritance taxes.
Duties and Responsibilities
The executor may need to engage the services of an appraiser to ascertain the value of certain assets of the estate. This could be a business, a work of art, a pension or real estate. It is important and necessary because estate taxes are based on the fair market value of the assets. After the executor files the required returns and makes payment of any taxes owed, the IRS typically notifies the executor by an estate “closing letter” that the agency has accepted the return. But it is not unheard of that a return is subject to an audit.
After everyone has been paid for debts, taxes and expenses, the executor will distribute the assets. Beneficiaries may sometimes even receive a partial distribution of their inheritance without having to wait for the closing of the estate. Although a simple estate may take just a few months to make its way through probate, a more complex estate may find the executor working for several years before the estate is closed.
A key characteristic of a good executor is some experience with this process. On-the-job training is possible, but only makes the process that much longer. An experienced executor can get the job done without unnecessary expense and delay, and without causing additional hardship and stress for the beneficiaries of the estate.
Hopefully, the executor will have a firm grasp of the many problems involved and a method with which to settle the estate.
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