When you serve as the executor of a will or estate, you’ll need to grapple with a lot of paperwork as you coordinate the distribution of assets and property. No matter what step of the probate process you’re working through, there’s likely a form for it. Some of the most important documents include a petition for probate, notice to creditors and various life insurance forms. A financial advisor can also help you with estate planning and management.
What an Executor of an Estate Does
An executor of an estate is a person appointed to carry out the final wishes of the deceased individual, as outlined in their will. The executor is responsible for managing the deceased’s assets, paying off their debts, and distributing their property to beneficiaries. This is an important role that can help ensure that the deceased’s wishes are respected and that their estate is handled properly.
For example, an executor might be necessary when an individual has a large estate or complicated financial affairs, such as multiple properties or investment accounts. To become an executor of an estate, an individual must be named in the deceased’s will and appointed by a court.
Petition for Probate
The petition for probate form is central to the process of executing a will. Executors will complete the form with the appropriate probate court. By doing this, they can receive formal approval from the court to begin the probate process. Even if the deceased names you as executor in the will, you’ll still need to complete this form so the court can give you authority to move assets and spend money from the estate.
The actual process is that the executor submits a petition for probate, and then the court gives Letters Testamentary to the executor. Letters Testamentary is an official court document that bestows the authority to act on behalf of the decedent’s estate. Having it will allow you to pay debts, transfer assets to beneficiaries and otherwise manage the affairs of the estate.
Petition for Administration
There are plenty of instances where the deceased didn’t create a will. In other cases, the deceased created a will but didn’t name an executor. If you wish to serve as executor in one of these cases, you can file a petition for administration in the appropriate probate court. The probate court can also appoint its own executor for the estate. These individuals receive the alternate title of administrator, though.
To appoint administrators, most probate courts have what’s called a priority of appointment. This is a list of people, descending in priority, who could be called upon to serve as administrator. Different states vary, but surviving spouses are typically given high priority, then children, then other family members. If you’re filing a petition for administration, but you’re not high on your court’s priority of appointment, then you’ll also need to obtain written waivers from the candidates with a higher priority than you.
Notice of Probate
When the probate process begins, the executor/administrator must, by law, to notify all beneficiaries that they are part of the decedent’s will. The executor can do this by delivering a Notice of Probate in person or via first-class mail. This is also known as a Notice to Beneficiaries or a Notice to Heirs.
If the executor is also the sole beneficiary of the estate, then this step is, of course, unnecessary. However, make sure to pay close attention to the will before determining if this situation applies to you.
Notice to Creditors
The Notice to Creditors must also inform all potential creditors of the decedent’s death. This is in case any of them want to make any sort of claim against the decedent’s estate. This is a necessary step to ensure that the executor pays off all debts connected to the estate.
The standard practice is for the executor to publish this notice in the biggest newspaper where the probate is taking place. That way, potential creditors of which the executor isn’t aware will still have an opportunity to see it and make their claim if they need to.
Life Insurance Forms
If the decedent owned a life insurance policy, the executor will need to submit a life insurance claim. If you as the executor have the decedent’s policy number and other necessary information, then you can reach out to the insurance company to obtain and complete the necessary claim forms. The exact claims process will depend on the insurance company.
If you know that the deceased held a life insurance policy but you don’t know anything else, don’t give up. You can still reach out to the insurance company with a letter declaring that you are the executor of the decedent’s will and you’re looking for information about the pertinent life insurance policy. With this route, you will also likely need to include the death certificate and Letters Testamentary to prove your credibility.
The paperwork associated with the estate probate process is quite complex. It’s actually one of the reasons why serving as a will’s executor can be a demanding job. That’s why estate planning attorneys can be helpful for executors handling complex estates.
If you are an executor, make sure you communicate with the appropriate probate court to ensure you’re filing or sending all the necessary forms at the correct times. If you’re creating a will, make sure to keep detailed but concise records of your financial holdings and obligations. That way, your executor will have an easier time locating your assets and creditors.
Tips for Planning Your Estate
- Creating a will is just one of the moves you should make as you enter your golden years. Others include taking out life insurance policies, setting up trusts, exploring long-term care policies and creating advance directives to handle potential end-of-life medical issues. Finding a qualified financial advisor who can help with these things doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- While it’s entirely possible to build a comprehensive estate plan on your own, doing so can be risky. That’s because there are so many ins and outs in relation to the laws surrounding probate, trusts and other similar topics. If you insist on going the DIY route, be sure to avoid these mistakes.
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