If you receive a call to be an executor of a loved one’s estate, you may begin to wonder what the job involves and look for where to start. Depending on the size of the estate, the job can be overwhelming since it requires you to do a lot of work financially and legally. Nonetheless, learning the details involved in your role as an executor can considerably alleviate your concerns and help you know how to manage a loved one’s estate confidently.
Here, you can find information regarding your duties as an executor, strategies you can adopt when needing to sell a property, and ways to protect yourself against personal liability when on duty.
What to Do as an Executor
What can you expect to do when managing a loved one’s estate? The list below offers convenient guidelines to help you embrace your role as an estate administrator:
1. Decide on the Role
When you discover that your loved one named you as the executor in the will, you first need to decide whether to take the role or not. Taking it means you must be ready to put considerable effort in, since the work is time-consuming with a minimal payoff in some states. If you decide not to take it, you can consider getting a neutral third party.
2. Keep Records of Important Documents and Property
Precision and organization are the keys to accomplishing your role as administrator of your deceased loved one’s estate. You need to keep accurate records of any bills you obtain for your dearly departed and any property you find in his or her name.
Additionally, you can look at the property’s condition to determine future needs for maintenance. For instance, if the assets include a commercial building, you can determine the need for repairs and tune-ups, including commercial electric services for safety and maintaining the property’s value.
3. Check for a Safe Deposit Box
You should verify whether your deceased loved one had a safe deposit box and locate it. If your dearly departed one owns one, finding it can enhance your convenience when performing your executor duties because the box typically contains vital information, including additional assets.
4. Prepare Several Copies of Death Certificates
Part of your duties will include contacting utility providers, banks, and other institutions to inform them of your loved one’s passing. Most organizations will request death certificates, and hence, having several copies at hand will make it easier for all involved. If they ask for certified copies, you can also request them to make a copy for their records, leaving you with the certified ones.
5. Report to the Social Security Administration
Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) and report the death of your loved one. In doing so, the SSA can provide a one-time payment, typically sent to the remaining spouse. When communicating with SSA, you need to present your SSA number, and your deceased loved one’s SSA number. You also need to show documents proving the deceased worker’s self-employment tax return or earnings for the previous year.
6. Protect the Property from Theft and Vandalism
You need to ensure your deceased loved one’s property is safe from theft and vandalism by removing valuables from the house. When securing the property, you can get licensed movers to take the items to container rentals, keeping them there until you can safely determine their next destination. In addition, precisely note each valuable removed from the house and its storage location to avoid misplacement and losses.
7. Identify Insurance Benefits
Look for and find any life insurance policies for your departed loved one and open claims for the benefits. You can also look into retirement accounts and inform the providers of your dear one’s death to begin the claims for the benefits. Besides these, contact the deceased’s employer and check if there were extra benefits for named beneficiaries.
8. Update Spouse’s Documents
Recommend to a surviving spouse to update the estate planning documents. Many couples usually plan their estates together, and the death of a spouse requires the other to switch their documents. This update reflects the loved one’s death through the changes to the beneficiaries.
9. Find a Probate Lawyer
It is best to get a probate lawyer when the estate’s heirs want to sell the deceased person’s home. As the executor, you will be in charge of the sale and require all parties to consent to the sale. If the beneficiaries prefer to sell the property in probate, get an experienced probate lawyer to help you through the process.
Steps for Selling a Property in a Probate
When the beneficiaries opt to sell a property of a loved one, you can sell it through a probate court. This strategy allows you to obtain sale proceeds that satisfy the estate’s debts while ensuring the beneficiaries get the value promised to them through the will. Here are the steps to take when selling a probate property:
Step 1: Get Professional Assistance
Whether you are a newbie executor or an experienced administrator, you need to begin by getting a real estate agent and an expert probate lawyer. Excellent realtors can help you reduce the workload and stress when managing the estate involves inspectors and appraisers. The real estate agent can inspect the properties, looking at different construction details such as wood flooring. He or she can also offer advice and referrals to maintenance people, such as a quality roofer for renovations.
An experienced probate attorney can counsel you, represent you in probate court, and prepare legal documents. In addition, the lawyer can aid you in handling critical aspects of estate management, including submitting final tax returns, filing for life insurance payouts, and ensuring the completion of the title search.
Step 2: Seek a Partition Action
You can face unique challenges when you have a house left for two or more people, and the parties disagree on how to handle the property. In such instances, you will need the court’s help to navigate the issues and find a solution for all involved. For example, if one side wants to sell the home while the other party objects, you should seek action from court. The court orders a sale via the partition action, with the proceeds then going to the parties involved.
Step 3: Petition to the Probate Court
Ask your probate attorney or real estate professional to recommend a certified appraiser to assess the home’s value. Doing this helps you get closer to the actual worth of the house than you would if you utilized a tax assessment. After getting the current value of the home, your lawyer can submit a petition and the appraisal to the court, petitioning it to sell the home.
This step is critical since the house can only go on the market after receiving the court’s approval. Notably, you want to keep in mind capital gain taxes when dealing with the property’s value. Although a high value for the house is a positive thing at this point, it may push beyond the threshold of inheritance tax.
Step 4: Collect Deposit and Agreement from a Potential Buyer
You need to present disclosure forms to prospective buyers noting any known material problems that can affect the home’s value. For instance, you should note if the house requires tune-ups via AC repair services or renovations on different structures like the garage door. You can get proper assistance from your attorney to guide you in completing the forms according to the requirements of a probate sale.
Additionally, you should note that the house is in probate, meaning the purchase agreement is dependent on court approval. As such, the transaction timeline can extend by a month or so, and your realtor can guide you through this period regarding home management.
Step 5: Keep Up the Maintenance and Insurance
It is advisable to work with your real estate agent to maintain the property, ensuring it remains in excellent condition and that does not compromise the home’s value. You can contact services such as roofers recommended by your agent to work on repairs around the home. Besides, you want to ensure electric installations function properly, such as garage door openers through systematic maintenance checks.
Contact the property’s insurance company and find out about the home’s coverage plan. Inquire if the company will cover the property during probate if it does not have occupants. Some insurance providers offer limited coverage for a certain period, and thus, you want to learn the time limit and any conditions that may extend to you as the executor.
Step 6: Present Your Bid to the Court
Typically, the probate court publicizes the date for bidding whenever a property requires its approval. This move provides other interested buyers an opportunity to bid on the sale, with the current bid announced in court and others submitting higher bids as guided by the judge. Notably, anyone intending to bid must offer a cashier’s check depositing 10% plus of the bid, which you should verify with a professional.
With the court order being final, you must refund the deposit to a prior potential buyer who has been outbid once the bidding finishes. It is essential to review in advance the comparable properties’ values and terms of the sale.
Step 7: Sign the Deed
As the administrator of your departed loved one’s estate, you are the only court-approved person authorized to sign property documents as a representative of the deceased. Carefully look at the legal description before recording the deed with your country to avoid errors, leaving you with a document that can withstand any challenges.
Step 8: Report the Proceeds to the Internal Revenue Service
Lastly, account for the distribution of the proceeds from the property sale to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It would help to study the regulations for reporting to the state where the property is to evade penalties for inconsistent filing.
Protection from Personal Liability
With the numerous duties expected of an executor, it is vital to implement an organized system to carry out your tasks fully without error. You must consider different aspects of your deceased loved one’s estate, including the liabilities, debts, and potential claims. It is essential to understand and avoid situations that can lead to legal issues to protect yourself from personal liability. These include:
1. Not Identifying all Liabilities and Quickly Distributing the Assets
The most common pitfall for executors is not sufficiently addressing all liabilities and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries too quickly. In this case, when any contingent liabilities such as unpaid income tax or capital gains tax come up for which the estate is accountable, you will be personally liable for the debts if it is impossible to recoup funds from the distributed assets.
2. Improperly Keeping Records
One of the most vital aspects of your role as an executor is properly keeping records of all valuables, expenditures, and assets. Having proper records ensures you can provide evidence whenever a beneficiary needs details regarding certain expenditures. Poorly kept records mean you can lose essential evidence, which you must then account for personally.
3. Failing to Administer the Estate Accordingly
You risk personal liability when you do not administer the estate on time due to negligence. In addition, if you do not act in the interests of the beneficiaries, you could end up losing your position as an executor.
4. Failing to Identify all the Estate’s Assets
When you forget to include some properties when applying for a grant of probate because you are in a hurry, you can suffer exposure if your omission has adverse effects on any beneficiaries. You must always double-check your paperwork to ensure you include all the properties, since you must eventually disclose any forgotten ones to the court later.
In conclusion, the months after a loved one’s death can feel overwhelming as an administrator of his or her estate. With the information provided above, you can know where to begin and identify the processes involved in closing a dear estate. This guide enables you to prepare for the role sufficiently and fulfill your obligations effectively while simultaneously guarding yourself against pitfalls.