We take nothing with us when we die. And we often leave  a lot of documents, investments, properties, debts, and other belongings for someone else to deal with after we die.  That someone else is called an executor.

If you have a will, you would want to name an executor to carry out the provisions of your will and ensure that all of your other concerns are taken care of when you die.  It’s a large responsibility that should not be given (nor accepted) casually.

If you have been appointed as executor of a will in the state of Washington, you will benefit from knowing more about executor duties. An executor is legally responsible for settling all outstanding financial obligations and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs. State regulations differ, but the executor is usually a close relative such as a brother, parent, daughter, or spouse.

Managing an estate can include hundreds of tasks that might take a year for an executor to complete. The executor may need the services of a lawyer and an accountant, which are paid for by the estate. While executors are not obliged by law to employ an attorney to help them through the probate process. Jones Legacy Law can help executors who are in charge of winding up a deceased person’s affairs through probate.

Our Tacoma estate planning attorneys understand that executors have a tremendous amount of responsibility, and that carrying out the desires of the deceased have fallen on their shoulders. Our estate attorneys help in making the probate process as swift and smooth as possible by counseling you and handling the many technical concerns on your behalf. 

Call us as soon as you are appointed executor of an estate so that we can assist you in making the best choices all through the probate process.

What Is An Executor?

An executor of an estate is a person chosen to manage a deceased person’s final will and testament. The executor’s major responsibility is to carry out the instructions to handle the deceased’s affairs and wishes. In the absence of a previous appointment, the executor is appointed by either the testator of the will (the person who makes the will) or through a court.

What Are An Executor’s Duties?

What are the executor’s dutiesIt is a major responsibility to serve as executor. It requires meticulous planning, organization, and adherence to legal regulations. The executor’s fiduciary duty is to work for the benefit of the estate and its beneficiaries. They will suffer legal consequences if they neglect to fulfill this duty, as in when they work with their own self-interest or allow the estate’s assets to deteriorate. Furthermore, you will surely want to ensure that the wishes of the people you care about are honored and followed out.

Searching And Management Of Documents

An executor’s job is to find and organize all of the needed documents to handle and probate an estate. To begin, the executor needs to secure a certified copy of death certificate. The will, assuming that it exists, is another important document. The original will is preferred, although any copies and prior versions should be kept by the executor.

The executor will have a better knowledge of both the beneficiaries and the estate because of the wording of the will. Lastly, the executor must look for any documents that outline the decedent’s properties, as well as their estate’s status. These papers will aid the executor in the administration and distribution of the estate’s assets.

Will Filing In Probate Court

Most states mandate a will to be filed under a certain time period following death or discovery. Depending on the state, a person with a will has anywhere from 10-30 days to file it. The executor must print photocopies before filing because the probate court would most probably require an original copy. 

A probate petition need not be filed alongside the will if the executor needs further time to assess if a probate action is indeed needed or if the estate is qualified for specific small estate procedures. Even when the estate does not go through probate, state law normally requires the will to be filed.

Notification of the Death to Interested Parties and Agencies

A decedent’s loved ones should be informed about their death as soon as possible, according to the executor. Executors are responsible for keeping heirs and beneficiaries substantially updated with the estate’s status. Even when an executor hasn’t resolved whether or not to initiate a probate action, they should inform heirs and  beneficiaries of their existing plans and keep them updated in case those plans alter. Clear and regular communication may assuage fears and prevent objections or lawsuits in the future.

In order to safeguard the estate’s financial interests and obligations, the executor has to inform other entities aside from beneficiaries and heirs, of the decedent’s death. If the decedent leased their house, an executor might have to notify the decedent’s landlord to arrange lease and payment termination. They might also be required to call the Social Security Administration, post office, as well as the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Benefits Claim During Probate

After a person has died, his or her family may have to deal with some financial problems. Fortunately, families may be compensated through sources like life annuities, insurance, as well as Social Security income. Family members may also be entitled to collect unpaid salary or any other job benefits owed to their deceased at the time of death. An executor is not required to manage the process of claiming benefits. However, he or she may assist heirs and  beneficiaries in navigating it.

Inventory Taking and Valuing Estate Assets

Executors are in charge of inventory taking and appraising the assets of an estate, for them to be distributed properly. The executor must create a spreadsheet listing all the assets and corresponding values. The completed inventory can be submitted to the probate court (many courts provide inventory spreadsheets). An executor can use professionals like appraisers to value the assets, particularly if such assets are complicated. Any estate debts should also be included in the valuation and inventory.

Identifying the Owners of Estate Assets

An executor will be able to know if probate is required based on the ownership of estate assets. If the deceased owns the property under joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety, or as community property with the right of survivorship, the property will be passed to the surviving co-owner without any need for probate. Depending on the circumstances, certain property that is not officially regarded as community property with the right of survivorship can nonetheless be transferred outside of probate or with simpler procedures. Trust property, life insurance profits, and retirement savings may also pass to new owners without any need for probate.

Finding Out If Probate Is Required

If the estate’s property has a low value or would pass without the need for probate, the estate can qualify for small estate procedures or informal probate. A probate case is unnecessary when all of the estate’s properties qualify for transfer outside of probate. Small estate procedures or skipping probate entirely might save time and money for the estate.  

This is also a perfect opportunity for an executor to consider if retaining the services of a probate lawyer might be beneficial. If an estate is big or complicated, or when probate action is expected, probate attorneys are usually the most beneficial. A probate attorney who is knowledgeable about the laws of the other state can be useful should ancillary probate is required since the decedent owns property that will be probated in a separate jurisdiction. 

Moreover, the courthouse may offer affordable legal assistance, and court clerks or staff attorneys may be able to address procedural questions and examine documents.

Lodging a Petition in Probate Court

The executor can file a petition for probate if it is required. An application to be appointed executor, the death certificate, and the original will are often contained in a probate petition. Even if the executor is already named in the will, the petitioner must request the court to assign an executor. In addition to the executor specified in a will, several states allow other interested parties to lodge a probate petition. The probate case will be opened once the court approves the probate petition.

Notifying the Probate Case’s Interested Parties

Once the probate case is started, the executor will be responsible for informing all heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors. The notification process varies from state to state. However, the executor will almost certainly be asked to present proof of notification before the probate court. A specific search process may be required if the executor is unable to find or identify particular heirs or beneficiaries. 

The executor can be permitted to inform creditors of the probate action before notifying heirs and beneficiaries. Once creditors are made aware of the case, the court will establish a timetable for creditors’ claims.

Proving the Will

Once the probate action is opened, the executor will be responsible for proving the will. Prior to a probate court approving the allocation of properties and other assets in accordance with the terms of a will, the will must be proven to be valid. A valid will is written, signed by a qualified testator, and is witnessed. Wills that were not witnessed (“holographic wills”) may be accepted in some states with further evidence. If the original cannot be found but there is other proof of the will’s authenticity, a copy of the will may be accepted by a probate court.

Estate Asset Management

The executor’s duty is to manage the estate’s assets as well as prevent them from incurring unnecessary harm or depreciation throughout the probate process. The executor is obligated to work for the best interests of the estate. The executor would have to open a bank account for the estate, take steps to safeguard and protect real estate as well as other properties, and render financial decisions in order to manage the estate efficiently.

Estate administration may also entail collecting debts, selling assets, or early distribution of assets to beneficiaries. If the decedent established a trust, the executor might need to consult with the trustee. All actions that have been done to maintain and oversee the estate should be documented in writing by the executor. The executor may also be required to prepare “accountings” regularly to track the estate’s financial activity. 

Property Transferring Outside of Probate

Various assets can be transferred to new owners without going through probate. One of the most common examples is property held in a living trust. This may also apply to real estate kept in particular types of ownership, like joint tenancy as well as tenancy by the entirety. 

Various kinds of accounts already have designated beneficiaries who could directly access the account’s contents. Payable-upon-death bank accounts, and also retirement plans and life insurance, may fall into this category. If the remaining assets of an estate are worth less than a specific value, the estate qualifies as a small estate, and the assets could be dispersed without formal probate.

A property must be transferred only when the executor is confident that the estate will be able to pay all of its debts and taxes. If there is no doubt that the estate has sufficient finances, some properties could be transferred outside of probate quite quickly.

Paying Off Debts And Taxes From The Estate

An executor is responsible for paying any valid debts owed either by the decedent or the estate, such as taxes. If it appears that the estate will not be able to pay its debts, the executor should seek the opinion of a probate attorney or consult the probate court for advice on which debts take precedence. State law may protect certain assets from creditors of an estate. If a probate case is pending, creditors will only have a limited time to file a claim against the estate or contest an executor’s rejection of a claim.

Estate Asset Distribution and Estate Closure

Once the deadline for creditors to file claims has passed, all legitimate debts have been paid, tax returns have been filed, and any disagreements have been resolved, the executor may be ready to close the estate for good. An executor will undoubtedly be needed to file some documents with the court before closing a probate case. 

Amongst which would involve final accounting wherein the executor outlines the activities on the estate’s assets, payment of the estate’s debts, and a plan for distributing assets to heirs and beneficiaries. If the court approves the distribution plan, the executor can distribute all of the estate’s assets, file proofs with the court, and request that the probate case be formally closed. The job of the executor is finished after the probate case is closed.

Get Help From Our Estate Attorneys 

While everyone would prefer to have an estate plan that skips the probate process, others are not so lucky. You’ve probably heard that it can be a time-consuming and complicated process when it comes to probate. However, Tacoma estate planning attorneys at Jones Legacy Law can help you make the probate process as painless as possible for your loved ones. Most probate estates can be conducted without intervention from the court and can be finished in months.

At Jones Legacy Law, we can help you with probate administrative duties like:

  • Opening the probate estate with the proper court
  • Notifying beneficiaries and creditors
  • Addressing estate creditors and claims
  • Transferring of estate assets
  • Filing of estate and income taxes

Tacoma estate planning attorneys at Jones Legacy Law will guide you through the administration process. Have an expert estate attorney by your side and greatly simplify the process. Call us now