First Steps for a Newly Appointed Executor
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 right now. To help you get started, a Coral Gables probate attorney at Stivers Law explains some first steps for any newly appointed Executor.
What Does an Executor Do?
If this is first experience with the probate of an estate, it helps to get a general idea if 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 owners. 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.
Executor First Steps
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 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. 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 through the Florida Health website.
- Consult/retain a probate attorney. Although you are not legally required to retain an attorney, doing so it always wise. Moreover, the estate will cover the cost of legal counsel. If the estate is modest and litigation is not expected, you may be able to proceed on your own; however, it is always best to speak to an experienced probate attorney early on to prevent making costly mistakes.
Contact a Coral Gables Probate Attorney
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE webinar. If you have additional questions or concerns about what to do as the Executor of an estate, contact the experienced Coral Gables probate attorneys at Stivers Law by calling (305) 456-3255 to schedule an appointment.