If you recently experienced the death of a loved one, you are undoubtedly still grieving. If your loved one appointed you as the Executor of his/her estate, however, you must also concentrate on the legal and practical tasks required of an Executor. If you are acting as an Executor for the first time, the prospect of probating an estate may seem overwhelming at the moment. To help you get started, a Fargo probate attorney at German Law Group offers five considerations for the first-time Executor.
An Overview of an Executor’s Role during Probate
If this is the first time you have been directly involved in the probate of an estate, it helps to get a general idea of what your role is during the process. The overall purpose of probate is to ensure that a decedent’s estate assets are identified, valued, and eventually transferred to the new owner’s. Before assets can be distributed, however, creditors must be given the opportunity to file claims and any federal and/or state gift and estate taxes must be paid. The Executor of an estate is appointed by the decedent in his/her Last Will and Testament and is charged with overseeing the probate of the estate.
5 Things for an Executor to Do First
If you find yourself named as the Executor of an estate, you will have numerous duties and responsibilities during the probate process. The following five steps, however, should be taken as soon as possible after you are notified of your appointment:
- Locate and review all estate planning documents. Because estate planning documents may interact, it is crucial to locate all of them as soon as possible. Documents to look for 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 which will officially grant you the authority you need to act as the Executor of the estate.
- Identify and secure major assets. It is your job to ensure that assets are identified, located and secured because you are ultimately responsible for them throughout the probate process. Examples of steps to take include:
- Take possession of vehicles
- Close financial accounts
- Lock up real estate and arrange for upkeep
- Speak to employees at a business and arrange for continued operations
- Categorize estate assets. Some assets are classified as “non-probate” assets because they bypass probate altogether. Determining which assets are probate assets and which are non-probate assets is necessary to determine if the estate may qualify for a small estate alternative to formal probate. In North Dakota, for an estate to use the small estate alternative the estate cannot include real property AND the value of the estate, less liens and encumbrances, cannot exceed $50,000. Common examples of non-probate assets include:
- Assets held in a trust
- Proceeds of a life insurance policy
- Accounts designated as POD or TOD
- Certain types of jointly-held property
- Certain retirement accounts
- Request several certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate. You will need a copy to submit to the court when you open probate, one for the funeral home, and likely copies for third parties when acting in your role as Executor. You may request a certified copy from the North Dakota Health Department.
- Consult/retain a probate attorney. Although you are not legally required to retain an attorney, doing so will help you avoid costly mistakes. Moreover, the estate will cover the cost of legal counsel.
Contact a Fargo Probate Attorney
Please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about acting as an Executor during the probate process, or you need assistance during the probate of an estate, contact a Fargo probate attorney at German Law Group by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.