The time period following the loss of a loved one is typically an emotional, and often stressful, one. If you also learned that the decedent appointed you as the Executor of his /her estate, the stress level will likely increase for you, particularly if you have never been through the probate process before as the Executor. With that in mind, a Grand Forks probate attorney offers the following tips that may help you navigate the probate process efficiently, and with a minimum amount of stress
Understanding Your Role in the Probate Process
Before discussing the process itself, it is important to make sure that you understand what your role is within the probate process. When a Testator executes a Last Will and Testament, the Executor is the individual appointed by a Testator to oversee the administration of the estate during probate upon the death of the Testator. This means that the decedent had a considerable amount of faith in you and your abilities.
Tips for Navigating Probate
Given the highly personal nature of probate, the probate process will not be identical for any two estates. Nevertheless, there are some tips for navigating the probate process that will apply to most estates, including:
- Seek legal advice and assistance. If the estate requires formal probate, most Executors retain the services of an experienced probate attorney right away. Having an attorney on your side ensures that you do not make costly mistakes and that the probate process moves along at an efficient pace.
- Make lists of everything. Depending on how organized the decedent was, probating an estate can be chaotic or structured. In order to protect yourself, and to make life easier for you, it is always a good idea to make several lists including a list of the decedent’s estate assets, the decedent’s debts, and the beneficiaries and heirs of the estate.
- Document, document, document. This tip applies to anything legal you are involved in throughout your life – document everything you do. Write down notes regarding conversations you have with parties involved in the probate of the estate. Keep copies of everything you file with the court. Record all the steps you take as the Executor just to make sure you cover your own back.
- Secure all assets. As soon as you have identified estate assets, make sure they are secured. This could include anything from locking up real property to closing out financial accounts. Whatever needs to be done to ensure that the asset remains as it was on the day the decedent died, should be done.
- Properly classify assets. Don’t make more work for yourself by including non-probate assets into the probate process. Certain assets, such as trust assets, life insurance proceeds, and retirement benefits are not included in the probate process because they automatically transfer to the designated beneficiary after the death of the decedent. Make sure you properly classify assets in order to avoid including these assets in the probate process.
- Ensure that you have sufficient liquid assets. Unless you are certain that the estate does not have any creditors, take the time to calculate the available liquid assets. Liquid assets will be necessary to pay any approved creditor claims. If sufficient liquid assets are not available, you will need to sell estate assets to raise the necessary funds.
- Make sure you properly calculate gift and estate taxes. All estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. Making a mistake on the amount of estate taxes due from an estate can be extremely costly after interest and penalties are added on to the tax bill. Most Executors consult with a certified public accountant (CPA) to ensure that the estate’s taxes are properly calculated and paid when they are due.
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about probating an estate, contact the experienced probate attorney at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.