Typically, when a loved one passes away you are able to work through the grief you experience on your own timetable. Even that small luxury is taken away if it turns out that the decedent named you to be the Executor of the estate in his/her Last Will and Testament. That appointment means that your loved one had the utmost faith and trust in your ability to efficiently and effectively. To help get you started, the Grand Forks probate lawyers at German Law offer a probate checklist for first-time Executors.
Over the course of a lifetime, almost everyone acquires assets that comprise their estate at the time of their death. Some people amass a huge estate that includes complex and valuable assets while other people own little more than their personal possessions at the time of death. Regardless of the size and value of assets owned by a decedent, those assets must be identified, valued, and passed down to the new owners. That is the primary purpose of the legal process known as probate. If the decedent left behind a valid Will, the person appointed as the Executor in that Will is responsible for overseeing the probate process. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, a family member or close friend may ask to be appointed by the court to oversee probate. Although an Executor typically retains the services of an estate planning attorney to assist during the probate process, the Executor is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the estate makes it through the probate process without making costly mistakes.
Every estate is as unique as the owner of that estate. Accordingly, the probate process is never identical for any two estates. Nevertheless, the following checklist may be beneficial for a first-time Executor as it covers the most common steps in the probate of an estate.
- Locate, review, and secure estate planning documents. This may include a Will, trust agreement, life insurance policies, and/or Letter of Instruction among others. An original copy of the Will must be located in order to initiate the probate process.
- Identify and secure major assets. This may include things such as locking and securing real property, closing bank accounts, or transferring collectibles to your location.
- Request a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate. You will need to submit this to the court when you open probate. You may request a certified copy from the North Dakota Department of Health.
- Retain an estate planning attorney. Do not try and go this alone. To avoid costly mistakes, work with an experienced attorney. The estate will cover the cost.
- Inventory estate assets. Now is the time to create a complete, detailed inventory of all estate asset, including both real and personal property as well as tangible and intangible assets.
- Categorize estate assets. Some assets are classified as “non-probate” assets because they bypass probate altogether. Common examples of non-probate assets include assets held in a trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, and certain types of jointly held property.
- Petition to open probate. You must file a petition, along with an original copy of the Will and a certified copy of the death certificate in the appropriate court in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of death.
- Obtain date of death value for assets. You may need the assistance of various appraisers for DOD values.
- Notify creditors. All known creditors can be personally notified that probate is underway. Unknown creditors must be notified via publication in a local newspaper.
- Review creditor claims. All claims submitted must be reviewed and approved or denied by the Executor.
- Sell assets if necessary. If the estate lacks sufficient liquid assets to cover all approved claims, you may need to sell estate assets to raise the necessary cash to satisfy claims.
- Pay approved claims. All approved claims are paid.
- Prepare gift and estate tax return. Every estate is subject to federal (and sometimes state) gift and estate taxation. As the Executor, you must prepare the estate tax return and pay any taxes due to the I.R.S.
- Complete closing inventory. The court may require you to complete a closing inventory showing all remaining assets to be disbursed.
- Transfer remaining assets. As the Executor, you must prepare any documents necessary to effectuate the legal transfer of the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Contact a Grand Forks
Please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding your duties and responsibilities as the Executor of an estate, contact the Grand Forks probate lawyers at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.