Admin & Probate Form

Administering Your Estate

This section assumes that you have followed this book, have prepared a will, and have designated who gets what of your “goodies”.

Many documents concerning wills refer to “personal representative”, “executor”, or “administrator” of your estate. These are all the same person. This book likes the term Executor.


Who Should I Appoint? Typically, you can choose almost anyone as the executor of a will (but see below for restrictions). Most wills are fairly straightforward, and no legal or financial knowledge is typically required.  Many estates have provisions whereby  property, autos, bank accounts, etc. are owned jointly by a spouse and ownership passes to the survivor without the need for a probate*. As a result the most common executors are: Spouses, Siblings, Children. 

The major exceptions to this are:
Children under the age of 18 typically cannot be executors
Felons typically cannot be executors
Some states have limitations on out-of-state executors, requiring them to also be primary beneficiaries, so check your state’s laws
Some states require out-of-state executors to obtain a bond to insure the estate against wrongful use, so ensure that whoever you choose can cover such a bond and check your state’s laws.

The key qualities that an executor needs are honesty, organization and communication. Honesty as a virtue speaks for itself. People often overlook, however, the necessity of being organized and the ability to communicate. The distribution of the will can become a mess if it is handled by someone who simply lacks these key qualities.

Each state’s laws are different, so always look into your state’s laws before naming an executor. Should my  Executor Hire Lawyers or Other Professionals? Even if you go through probate court*, the paperwork required does not require a legal degree. On the other hand, if there are disputes, complex property issues, significant tax liability, etc., an executor should seriously consider getting professional help in the form of a lawyer, or depending on the issue, an accountant. Finally, executors shouldn’t be afraid to ask the court for assistance; if the judge feels that it is necessary, he or she will almost assuredly advise you to get a lawyer.

Quick Tip:
The key qualities that an executor needs are honesty, organization and communication. Honesty as a virtue speaks for itself. People often overlook, however, the necessity of being organized and the ability to communicate.

The distribution of the will can become a mess if it is handled by someone who simply lacks these key qualities.
Probate
Having your will probated is the first step in the legal process of administering your estate, resolving all claims and distributing your property in the manner you specified in your will. A probate court (surrogate court) decides the legal validity of your will and grants  its approval by granting probate to the executor. The probated will becomes a legal document that may be enforced by the executor in the law-courts if necessary. A probate also  officially appoints the executor (or personal representative), generally named in the will, as having legal power to dispose of the testator’s assets in the manner specified in the will.


Executor’s List
1. Obtain a number of “certified” copies of the death certificate (20 should be sufficient). You’ll need them many times during the probate process.
2. Locate the will and other important papers: stock certificates, trust documents and the insurance policies.
3. If necessary, apply to appear before probate court.
4. Notify beneficiaries named in the will.
5. Send death notices to post office, utilities, banks and credit card and insurance companies.
6. Inventory belongings. Have them appraised if necessary (recommended).
7. Check with deceased’s employer for unpaid salary, insurance, etc.
8. File for Social Security, civil service or other veteran’s benefits.
9. Open a checking account in the name of the estate to cover expenses, such as legal fees, funeral expenses and taxes.
10. File state, city and federal tax returns.
11. Don’t remove anything from the home or property before the official division process. Common sense may require that valuables be removed for safe-keeping; just make sure that all heirs are aware and agree.

When is Probate Probably Not Necessary?
If your home is owned by you and your married partner as “Community Property With The Right Of Survivorship”, your bank accounts, automobile, and other securities are likewise owned jointly, and you have a valid Last Will and Testament, a Probate may not be necessary.

Lough Matters:
Three sisters, ages 92, 94 and 96, live in a house together.
One night the 96-year-old draws a bath. She puts her foot in and pauses. She yells to the other sisters, ‘Was I getting in or out of the bath?’
The 94-year-old yells back, ‘I don’t know. I’ll come up and see.’ She starts up the stairs and pauses ‘Was I going up the stairs or down?
The 92-year-old is sitting at the kitchen table having tea listening to her sisters, she shakes her head and says, ‘I sure hope I never get that forgetful, knock on wood...’
She then yells, ‘I’ll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who’s at the door.’