Your last will and testament allows you to designate the division of your assets, including items such as real estate, personal belongings, cash and stocks. If you die with assets in your name, your will goes through a formal process known as probate. The probate process and costs may vary depending on the state you reside in at the time of your death, your assets, debts and whether anyone contests your will.
Filing the Will
The person you name as the executor of your will, or your personal representative, is responsible for filing the necessary paperwork, including your death certificate and your will, and paying the required fees to start this procedure. The executor may need to provide the court with names and addresses of the beneficiaries listed in your will, as well as those that could inherit your assets if you died without a will.
The court will officially appoint the individual you named as the executor of your estate to manage your assets during the probate proceedings. The court provides your executor with letters of testamentary, often referred to as letters of administration, as official permission to carry out the affairs necessary to the closing of your estate. Your executor may need to post a bond to fulfill the duties. Your estate will cover the cost of your executor’s fees to carry out the necessary requirements.
Your executor gathers information on all your assets and files an inventory of your belongings with the court. This inventory becomes part of the public record of your estate proceedings. The letters of testamentary allow your executor to open a separate bank account in the name of your estate and transfer existing assets into this new account to pay off any outstanding debts. Individuals and businesses may file liens against your estate to help them collect any amounts you owed at the time of your death. Your executor’s financial responsibilities may also include selling off real estate and liquidating certain assets, as well as paying any state and federal taxes.
After your executor pays all your expenses, debts and taxes, the court may formally permit your executor to distribute your assets to your heirs, according to the directives outlined in your will. The time it takes to reach this point in the probate process can vary greatly, depending on your estate. Once your executor finalizes the estate disbursements, he provides a final accounting to the court and formally requests the closure of your estate.