When a family member or loved one dies a period of grieving follows, during which time most people focus on their memories of the deceased and the life they shared with him or her. If, however, you were named by the decedent as the Executor of his/her estate you may have to put aside your emotions and delay your grieving process, to a certain extent, because you will need to focus on the practical and legal aspects of the decedent’s death. If you have never been through the probate process before, you may also be unsure what to expect and, more importantly, what to do next. One thing you can do immediately is retain the services of a probate attorney to assist you throughout the administration of the estate.
What Is Probate and Must All Estates Go Through It?
When someone dies, he/she leaves behind assets that may include real or personal property as well as tangible and intangible assets. All of these assets are part of the decedent’s estate at the time of death. Eventually, all of those assets will be transferred out of the decedent’s name and into the name of the intended beneficiary or heir, assuming they are not used to satisfy debts of the estate left behind by the decedent. In order to make sure all of those assets are accounted for and properly transferred, the law requires the estate to go through the legal process referred to as “probate.” Probate also serves as a method by which creditors of the estate can file claim against the estate as well as a way to ensure that any taxes owed by the decedent and/or the estate of the decedent are paid before estate assets are transferred out of the estate.
What Are the Duties and Responsibilities of an Executor?
One of the most important decisions made when executing a Last Will and Testament is deciding who to appoint as the Executor of the estate. If you were appointed as the Executor of a decedent’s estate, it means that the decedent felt you have the skills, knowledge, and character necessary to handle overseeing the administration of his/her estate. While every estate is unique, some of the most important duties and responsibilities you will likely have as the Executor of the estate during the probate process include:
- Opening probate by petitioning the court and submitting the decedent’s original Last Will and Testament ot the court.
- Determining what assets the decedent owned at the time of death and locating those assets.
- Obtaining a date of death value for all estate assets.
- Notifying potential creditors of the estate that probate is underway by publishing a notice in the local newspaper.
- Reviewing claims submitted by creditors and deciding which claims to approve and pay.
- Paying creditor claims out of estate assets.
- Deciding which estate assets to liquidated if insufficient funds are available to pay creditors.
- Managing estate assets during the probate process.
- Defending the decedent’s Will is it is challenged in the form of a Will contest.
- Preparing and paying any state and/or federal taxes owed by the decedent personally or by the estate of the decedent.
- Executing any documents necessary to transfer the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries pursuant to the terms of the decedent’s Will and/or pursuant to the North Dakota intestate succession laws.
How Can a Probate Attorney Help Me?
Performing the job of Executor of an estate is often a time consuming, and complicated, job. The larger and more valuable the estate, the more financial and legal skills and knowledge are needed to successfully fulfill the role. An experienced probate attorney can help from start to finish in a number of ways, including:
- Preparing legal documents that need to be filed with the court
- Helping to retain experts needed to value assets
- Locating and communicating with beneficiaries and/or heirs
- Reviewing creditor claims to determine which claims are legally valid
- Providing a legal defense if the decedent’s Will is contested
- Explaining federal gift and estate taxes and helping to determine if the estate must pay any
- Preparing documents necessary to transfer assets to the new owners
- Providing guidance and advice throughout the probate process
If you have additional questions about the probate process and/or the duties of an Executor in the State of North Dakota please contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.