What are the Main Responsibilities of a Probate Executor?
1. Produce a Will for Validation & Filing of Probate
When someone passes away if they had a Last Will & Testament they have died “Testate” and the Personal Representative, or Executor of the estate is typically named in the will along with the other heirs. If the deceased did not have a Last Will & Testament they have died “Intestate” and upon filing of probate the court will appoint an “Administrator” to carry out the same duties as an Executor. In this case the estate will be settled according to local law rather than the Will.
Regardless, the first step in either process is to meet with the Probate Clerk in the county where the deceased held residence. We simply refer to this as “Filing Probate”. In order to file probate the family member who is administering the estate (soon to be known as the Executor or Administrator) will need to fill out an application or petition, provide a death certificate, provide a valid copy of the Will (if applicable) and a list of family members and heirs (if not as part of the petition).
Upon probate filing the court will schedule a hearing to determine the validity of the Will and to give interested parties an opportunity to object to the Executor or Administrator’s appointment to settle the estate.
Compile a List of Assets & Liabilities & Give Public Notice
Before the initial hearing the person who filed probate is responsible for publishing a legal notice in the local newspaper and notifying each creditor that the estate is being probated. In order to do this the person administering the estate will need to produce a list of assets and liabilities so they know who the creditors are and if there are sufficient assets in the estate to settle the liabilities. In some states the court will require appraisal of assets and selling these assets may require court approval.
Compile a List of Heirs
Before the initial hearing, and usually as part of the initial filing, the person administering the estate must produce a list of Beneficiaries named in the Will and Heirs under State Law (those who will inherit if there is not a valid will). Notice must be given to the heirs prior to the hearing so they have an opportunity to object to the person giving notice being the Executor or Administrator. Fortunately, this is rare.
Settle All Liabilities
Once notice has been given and the Executor or Administrator has been officially appointed they may open an bank account in the name of the estate using the assets from the estate and begin to settle liabilities. By this time they should have received creditors’ claims against the estate as a result of the notices sent out. If there are enough assets to pay these liabilities the Executor can usually settle them without court approval. If there are not sufficient assets in the estate to settle all of the liabilities the estate is said to be “insolvent” and the court will decide in what order the liabilities shall be paid. This will vary by state but typically the taxes and probate costs will be paid first followed by the funeral and healthcare costs and lastly the general creditors will get what is left if anything.
Distribute All Assets
Once all liabilities have been paid the estate can be settled and remaining assets may be distributed. In some states there is a set time that the estate must remain “open” after notice was given to creditors.