How to Handle a Deceased Father's Estate

By David Carnes

If your father died leaving property to heirs, you must initiate the probate process with the local probate court. This is true whether or not he left a valid will. If you have been appointed executor of his estate, you must also perform certain administrative duties throughout the probate process. Among other duties, you will be responsible for distributing property according to your father's will, if he left one. In the absence of a valid will, his property will be distributed in accordance with state intestate law. The probate process can take years if the estate is complex or if the will is disputed.

Initiating Probate

Step 1

Obtain a certified copy of your father's death certificate from the county coroner or the mortuary where your father's body was taken prior to burial.

Step 2

Locate your father's will, if he left one. You need the original will with your father's original signature, along with a photocopy.

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Step 3

Obtain an application for probate from the probate court with jurisdiction over the county where your father was living at the time of his death. Many courts now have these forms available online. If an application is not available online, obtain one from the court clerk. Complete the application and sign it. You are not required to be the named estate executor in your father's will to submit an application for probate.

Step 4

Submit your father's death certificate and a copy of the will to the probate court along with the application for probate. You may be required to pay a small filing fee (fees vary by jurisdiction). Submission of these items will initiate the probate process. The court will set a date and time for the first hearing and notify the executor named in your father's will.

Named Executor

Step 1

Attend the initial probate hearing and bring your father's original will with you. The probate judge will examine the will to determine whether it appears to be valid and issue an order admitting your father's estate to probate. While not required to do so, If you were named executor in the will, the judge will probably appoint you as executor of your father's estate. He will then issue legal documents that establish your authority as executor. You will need these documents to perform legal acts on behalf of your father's estate, such as withdrawing money from your father's bank account. The judge may issue an order authorizing you to pay a stipend to your father's dependents out of estate funds. He will then set a date for the second hearing.

Step 2

Inventory all estate property including cash, real estate, personal property and financial assets such as corporate stock. Obtain professional appraisals of valuable estate property such as real estate. Catalog estate creditors and debtors.

Step 3

Obtain a taxpayer's identification number for your father's estate and use it to open a checking account in the name of the estate (please see Resources section).

Step 4

Close all accounts, such as credit card accounts listed in your father's name.

Step 5

Seek payment of all outstanding debts owed to the estate, such as your father's last paycheck. Your executor authorization documents will allow you to dispose of these assets -- by depositing your father's last paycheck into the estate checking account, for example.

Step 6

File your father's final tax returns. File an estate income tax return as well, if estate property generates more than $600 during any year in which it is subject to probate. File an estate tax return if the value of your father's estate exceeds the estate tax exemption. The estate tax exemption varies by year. As of 2012, it is $5.12 million (please see IRS Publication 950 for details). The federal estate tax return is due nine months after the date of your father's death. Some states also impose inheritance taxes.

Step 7

Notify all estate creditors that your father's estate has been admitted to probate. Depending on state law, some creditors must be notified directly while others can be notified by publishing notice in a newspaper.

Step 8

Pay all outstanding estate debts, including debts to tax authorities, even if you have to sell estate property to raise funds to pay these debts. It is your responsibility to determine the validity of any claims against the estate and to refuse to pay a claim that is invalid.

Step 9

Distribute the remainder of estate property to heirs as the probate court directs.

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What Do I Do if My Father Had a Will & Has Died?



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How to be Assigned as an Estate Administrator

A testator generally names an executor, or personal representative, in his will. However, the probate court overseeing the estate must approve the executor. If no executor is named in the will, the court does not approve the named executor or there is no will, the probate court will appoint someone to administer the estate. This person is known as the estate administrator. An interested party can step forward and request for the court to appoint him as estate administrator. The administrator of a probate estate takes responsibility for distributing the deceased person's property and assets and paying debts and taxes. State laws govern the order in which people qualify to be administrator. Usually, a spouse is first in line followed by children of the deceased. The forms you need to file to request appointment as an estate administrator can vary from state to state.

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