A well-crafted will maximizes your assets, protects your loved ones, and allows you to leave behind a lasting legacy. If you are unfamiliar with the basics of what a will is, start with part one in our estate management series. In today’s post, we’ll cover what happens with a will and the associated estate after someone passes away.
To begin, the estate goes through something called probate. Simply put, probate is the court process of authenticating a will. If there is no will, the court gets to decide how the inheritance is distributed (not an ideal situation in many cases). During this time, wills can be contested. They may be proven invalid under specific circumstances (for example, if the deceased was incompetent or under undue influence at the time of the will’s creation). As long as the will was properly prepared, the court validates the document, giving official permission to the will’s named executor to start enacting the deceased’s final wishes.
Estate Administration: It’s All in the Details
Next, the executor (also sometimes called the administrator or personal representative) takes responsibility for settling the estate. If there is no will, the court appoints an executor, usually the next of kin or a close friend. The executor handles a long list of duties required to wrap up loose ends, manage assets, and disburse any inheritance. Executors are a fiduciary, meaning they have a legal, ethical, and moral obligation to serve the beneficiaries of the estate over their own self interests. They can be held personally liable if they don’t handle their job efficiently or lawfully. Being an executor is a serious role, so it’s important to choose someone with integrity whom you trust.
When a person passes away, all of their assets or possessions become part of their estate. The executor handles the estate administration, the process of settling all of the deceased’s finances and assets and disbursing any inheritance. In general, the executor begins the estate administration by notifying all beneficiaries of the person’s death and providing each with a copy of the will. Next, the executor will often:
- Prepare an assets and liabilities list
- Collect life insurance proceeds
- Pay outstanding bills
- File final tax returns
- Collect any amounts owed
- Publish newspaper notice(s) of the estate
- Settle any claims filed against the estate
- Notify creditors of the death
- Liquidate necessary assets (selling a home, stock, etc.)
Being an executor isn’t the easiest job in the world. The associated tasks can feel heavy and overwhelming. That’s why executors often choose to hire various professionals to lighten their loads and comb through details. Often attorneys, appraisers, accountants, real estate agents, and even auctioneers are called in to help.
Finally, as accounts are settled and property is liquidated, the executor distributes assets to any named recipients. This process can be lengthy. Depending upon the complexity of the situation, estate administration can take anywhere from six months to a year. Without a will, settling the final inheritance can take even longer. After all accounts, assets, and inheritances are disbursed, the estate is considered closed.
Having a well-prepared will allows your loved ones to focus on celebrating your life and grieving after you’re gone, instead of scrambling to figure out what your wishes may have been. A will can bring immense relief and clarity to an already hard situation. Estate administration will go much smoother and faster with a will intact, and the chance of family squabbles usually decreases. And most importantly, you can rest assured knowing your loving legacy will last for future generations. If you need guidance in these areas, we’re here to guide you. Contact Stuart Boehning, Estate Planning attorney, at 765.742.9066.
Missed our first two posts in this estate management series? Read them here:
Estate Administration 101: Wills and Trusts
Estate Administration 101: Preparing a Will
The content of this blog is intended to be general and informational in nature. It is advertising material and is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice to or for any particular person, case, or circumstance. Each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney if you have any questions about your situation.