When you think about creating your Last Will and Testament you likely think about all the decisions you will need to make related to the distribution of your estate assets. What you may not be thinking about is who to appoint as the Executor of your estate. Like most people, you may simply fill in the name of a spouse, family member, or close friend as the Executor in your Will without giving the matter much thought. Once you learn about the numerous and varied Executor duties and responsibilities, however, you will hopefully stop and actually consider your choice.
Executor Duties begin Immediately after Your Death
The Executor of your estate must step up immediately after your death, something that is very difficult for someone who is also grieving your loss. As soon after your death as possible, your Executor must locate an original copy of your Last Will and Testament and begin the process of opening the probate of your estate. At the same time, your Executor must attempt to identify and locate all your estate assets in order to secure those assets. Your Executor will be responsible for maintaining and overseeing those assets until the probate of your estate is concluded.
Initiating the Probate Process
Your Executor must submit your Will, along with a petition to open the probate of your estate, to the appropriate probate court within a statutory period of time. Unless your estate is small enough to qualify for an alternative to formal probate, your Executor will likely retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to help at this point; however, your Executor will remain responsible for overseeing the probate of your estate.
Because not assets are required to go through the probate process, your Executor must review all assets and decide which ones are probate assets and which are non-probate assets. Common examples of non-probate assets include assets held by a trust, proceeds of an insurance policy, and certain types of jointly held property.
Next, your Executor is required to notify all creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Known creditors may be contacted personally; however, notice must also be given to unknown creditors. This is accomplished by publishing a notice of probate in a local newspaper. Creditors then have a statutory period of time within which they must file claims against the estate. Your Executor must review all claims and approve or deny each one. Approved claims must then be paid out of estate assets. If your estate lacks sufficient liquid assets to pay all creditors, your Executor must decide which assets to sell to raise the needed funds. If the estate lacks sufficient assets to pay all creditors, creditors are paid according to priority.
Defending the Will
Sometimes, someone files a challenge to your Will, alleging that the Will is invalid for one reason or another. If that happens, your Executor is required to defend the Will throughout the ensuing litigation.
All estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. Your Executor is responsible for calculating, preparing, filing, and paying (if applicable) all state and federal taxes.
At the end of the probate process, your Executor’s last duties include filing a final inventory with the probate court, if required to do so, and effectuating the legal transfer of the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
As you can see, the duties and responsibilities of your Executor require the ability to understand both financial and legal issues that may arise during the probate of your estate. Appointing someone to the position without thinking it through could lead to costly mistakes during the probate of your estate.
If you have additional questions or concerns about Executor duties and responsibilities, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.