The loss of a family member or loved one is generally a time of grief and other heightened emotions. If you recently lost a loved one, and you have also been informed that you are the Executor if the estate, you may be feeling overwhelmed at this point. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, the job of Executor can be extremely time consuming and complicated. Moreover, if you are simultaneously dealing with your feelings of grief and loss it may be difficult to concentrate on the duties and responsibilities of the Executor. For most people in your position, help can be found by retaining the services of a probate lawyer. In fact, it is common practice to retain a probate lawyer to help the Executor probate an estate to ensure that no significant mistakes are made. To better understand why hiring a probate lawyer can help, you need to learn more about the duties and responsibilities of the Executor.
What Is Probate and Why Is It Required?
When a person dies, he or she leaves behind an “estate.” The decedent’s estate consists of all assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. Sometimes, an estate includes nothing more than personal items, household furnishings, and a small amount of money in a savings or checking account. For other decedents, however, the estate they leave behind is extremely valuable and full of complex assets. Eventually, all estate assets will be transferred to beneficiaries and/or legal heirs of the estate. Before that can happen though, all creditors of the estate must be notified about the decedent’s death and afforded the opportunity to file a claim against the estate of the decedent. In addition, all state and federal taxes owed by the decedent and/or the estate of the decedent must be calculated and paid. Probate is the legal process that handles all of these issues – and more.
What Are My Duties and Responsibilities as the Executor of the Estate?
If this is the first time you have been appointed the Executor of an estate you are undoubtedly feeling a bit lost. The Executor of an estate is appointed by the Settlor in the Settlor’s Last Will and Testament. Although the court must officially approve the appointment, that is typically just a formality. The duties and responsibilities of the Executor can be wide-ranging and may be very simple to extremely complex. Some of the most common of those duties and responsibilities include:
- Conducting a preliminary inventory. Identifying and locating estate assets to determine what needs to be secured and to determine what type of probate will be required. Not all assets are required to go through probate. The probate assets will determine if formal probate is required or a small estate alternative is an option.
- Opening probate. If formal probate is required, you must submit an original copy of the decedent’s Will and a petition to probate the estate to the appropriate court.
- Formal inventory. You need to locate as many estate assets as possible, create an inventory, and obtain a date of death value for each asset.
- Notify creditors. Known creditors can be notified personally. Unknown creditors receive notice via publication of the notice of probate in a local newspaper.
- Review creditor claims. State law determines how long creditors have to file a claim against the estate. You must review all claims filed and approve or deny each one. Approved claims are paid using estate assets,
- Defend the estate. If someone challenges the validity of the Will you submitted for probate, you must defend that will throughout the litigation that follows.
- Pay taxes. All estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. New York residents are also subject to state estate taxes. You must prepare the returns and pay any tax obligation due.
- Wrapping up. Finally, you will facilitate the transfer of the remaining assets to the new owners.
How Can a Probate Lawyer Help Me?
The probate system can be difficult enough to navigate for the first time without the added stress and anxiety of also grieving a loss. Despite this, it is imperative that you not make costly mistakes as the Executor. Retaining the services of an experienced New York probate lawyer to assist you is the best way to avoid that from happening and to ease your stress level throughout the probate process.
For more information about estate planning, download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have questions or concerns about the duties and responsibilities of an Executor, contact an experienced New York State probate lawyer at the Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia by calling 800-295-1917 to schedule your appointment.