If you have been named as executor of a will, you can choose to carry out your duties yourself or to hire an attorney. Many people choose to be a DIY executor of a will when the estate is not complicated or there is no reason to expect a will contest.
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Filing the Will for Probate
Your first task is to file the will with the appropriate probate court, usually in the jurisdiction where the testator resided at the end of her life. You will be asked to fill out a formal petition, or a court document asking the court to begin probate, as well as a petition that authorizes you to legally fulfill your duties as executor. Most probate courts provide forms for both the petition for probate and the petition to authorize you to serve as executor, sometimes called "letters testamentary."
Preparing the Inventory
Make an inventory of the estate's assets after you are formally authorized to begin serving as executor. Most probate courts require you to make the inventory within a certain number of weeks or months after probate begins. The staff at the court can give you a specific deadline date to finish the inventory. The inventory should contain a description of each piece of real and personal property in the estate, along with an estimation of its fair market value. If you need a professional appraiser to determine the fair market value of an item, you may hire one and pay his bills from the estate.
Once the inventory is complete, you may begin paying the last bills charged to the estate. Most estates will have outstanding bills for the deceased person's final medical, funeral and burial expenses. The probate court may set a deadline by which you must finish paying the bills. The court may also assign required paperwork for you to file when the bills are paid, showing which creditors were paid and how much.
Distributing the Estate
Once the bills are paid and any other issues relating to the estate, such as ownership, are settled, the court will authorize you to begin distributing the estate's assets to the beneficiaries listed in the will. As executor, you have a duty to follow the will's instructions as closely as possible when distributing assets. You also have the ability to liquidate certain assets, if necessary, to ensure that each beneficiary receives the share listed in the will.
References & Resources
- Connecticut Judiciary: Guidelines for Administration of Decedents' Estates
- IRS.gov: FAQs for Executors
- University of Alabama Law Review: Excessive Fees in Probate Matters
- AARP: 10 Things You Should Know About Writing a Will
- New York Surrogates' Court: FAQ
- San Francisco State University: Probate in California
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