How to Administer an Estate
In the period of time following the passing of a loved one, it can be difficult to know exactly how to proceed. This is especially true of following probate procedure and administering an estate, which can be a complex and lengthy task if there the decedent held many assets or claims are disputed.
Administering the estate in the correct manner is essential to ensure the wishes of the will are met, state and federal trust and estate laws are followed, and everyone receives their fair share of an inheritance. In this guide, we’ll talk you through the basic steps of probate and estate execution.
Appointing an Executor
The executor is the person tasked with dealing with the bulk of the estate administration. They will identify and catalog the deceased’s assets, pay off outstanding debts, finalize tax payments, and ensure distribution is in accordance with the will.
Choosing an executor is almost always the first step once the probate process has begun. If one has not been explicitly named in the will, then they will be chosen by the court. In most cases, the court-appointed executor will be the surviving spouse or closest relative.
The Next Steps
Once an executor has been appointed, it will be their duty to carry out the following steps. As probate law varies from state to state, the order and timing may vary slightly. In general, however, administration is carried out in the following order:
• Location of Assets – All assets, including real estate, money, stocks, and possessions must be recovered and inventoried. Note that some assets won’t go through probate, such as properties held in living trusts, joint bank accounts, life insurance payouts, and retirement funds with beneficiaries.
• Assessment of Value – The executor must then determine, usually through a third party, how much each asset was worth at the time of death. Many states require that this final inventory of assets be submitted to the court, along with how the values were reached.
• Notification of Creditors – All creditors of the decedent must be identified and notified to determine final debts owing. An advertisement in the newspaper is usually placed to alert creditors who would be otherwise unknown to the executor.
• Settlement of Debts and Taxes – All debts are paid off with the assets of the estate, liquidating physical property as necessary. Estate taxes will also be paid if required by the state.
• Finalization of Tax Returns – The executor will file a final tax return for the deceased, for their personal income during that year.
• Distribution of Estate – Finally, any remaining assets will be distributed to beneficiaries according to the will. Any assets left to minors may need to be placed in trust, which the executor will also have to oversee.
While attempts have been made to streamline estate administration—the most notable being the Uniform Probate Code—this process is not always as straightforward as it may seem. Difficulties can arise if:
• The will is contested
• The deceased is intestate (i.e., does not leave behind a will)
• Debts cannot be fully repaid
• The assets are especially complex or located in other states
Comprehensive estate planning is crucial to avoid these costly, time-consuming, and often emotionally taxing complications. Without the right estate attorney, there’s no guarantee that an estate will be handled the way it was intended to be.
Is your estate in the right hands? If you want to be sure, or if you have any questions about administering a loved one’s estate, you need an attorney who will put your needs first. Contact Joseph A. Ledwidge PC at (718) 276-6656 for a free phone consultation.
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