The executor’s first responsibility is to officially begin the probate process. An executor accomplishes this by presenting the will and a copy of the death certificate to the probate division and completing an application to probate the estate. In cases where there is no will, the person who wishes to serve as executor must still submit the application and the death certificate and request appointment to the position. The court clerk will validate the will, making sure it meets all of Tennessee’s legal requirements, then schedule a hearing so a judge can swear in the executor.
The executor must immediately give notice to heirs, beneficiaries and the decedent’s creditors that his estate is in probate. This involves actual written notice to anyone with an interest in the estate, such as the decedent’s relatives, regardless of whether the decedent named them in his will. The estate must also publish a newspaper notice to notify any creditors that the executor doesn’t know about. In Nashville, the probate court clerk handles publication for the executor. The probate court clerk also provides official notices that the executor can mail to known creditors.
The executor’s next responsibility is to marshal the decedent’s assets. This involves identifying them and locating them. Some assets might need appraisals to establish their worth. The executor should also make sure that insurance policies are kept current on anything of value. If anyone owed money to the decedent, the executor must collect it, because that money now belongs to the estate. After all this is accomplished, the executor must file a report regarding the estate’s assets with the probate division of the Seventh Circuit Court. This inventory is due within two months of opening the estate.
The decedent’s creditors must make a claim for payment within four months of receiving notice. As these claims come in, the executor must analyze each to decide if they are legitimate. The executor must also establish if the decedent owed any taxes, either personal income taxes or estate taxes. The executor must make sure the estate doesn’t run up any unnecessary debts. This means canceling subscriptions, unnecessary services to the decedent’s home and credit accounts where interest might accumulate on balances. If the decedent was over age 55, the executor should find out if he received any benefits from TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid system. Some of these benefits require repayment. Assets might have to be liquidated to pay these expenses, and the executor is responsible for doing this as well.
Closing the Estate
After all debts and expenses are paid, the executor must distribute the estate’s remaining assets to the will’s named beneficiaries. The executor must then file a final accounting with the probate division of the Seventh Circuit Court. If the decedent left no will, his assets are distributed to his next of kin according to state law. If beneficiaries and heirs sign statements acknowledging their bequests and their satisfaction with the administration of the estate, the probate court clerk will accept these as a final accounting. Otherwise, the executor must submit a more detailed report, including all the estate’s cancelled checks written for taxes and debts. This officially closes the estate.