When your loved one dies, an experienced probate attorney can be a great asset. If your loved one had a will then there should be a person named to be in charge of wrapping up the estate, called an Executor. The Executor is generally a surviving spouse, an adult child, a trusted friend or relative, or a trust company named in the will. If your loved one had no formal will appointing an Executor, a court appointed Administrator may be required to pass assets on to his/her heirs at law. The Executor or Administrator has a special responsibility to act in the best interest of the Estate beneficiaries and see that the Estate assets and money are not wasted.
If you are an Executor or Administrator, one of the smartest ways to ensure you are acting in the best interests of the Estate beneficiaries is to hire an experienced probate attorney. Your attorney should be willing to provide you with a basic education of the probate process so you can determine which tasks you can handle independently and which ones will require professional guidance. The Estate is responsible for paying the attorney fees, so there should be no personal cost to you. Hiring a probate attorney who has good communication skills and makes themselves available to you is the ticket to a successful estate administration.
The following is a sample of services an experienced probate attorney should offer Executors or Administrators during the probate process:
1. Assist with obtaining copies of death certificates and a dated obituary notice and/or newspaper articles.
2. Coordinate meetings with the decedent’s family and/or beneficiaries, as necessary.
3. Advise on checking the contents of any safe deposit boxes and on obtaining copies of marriage and birth certificates.
4. Help with compiling a list of heirs, next of kin and beneficiaries.
5. Review the decedent’s will with the Executor/Administrator and decedent’s family to determine whether probate is needed and if so, what probate proceeding is most appropriate.
6. Proceed with probate filing, if no trust was created.
7. If necessary, obtain letters testamentary or letters of administration for the executor/administrator from the court.
8. Assist with inventory of tangible real estate property and obtaining real estate deeds, mortgages, leases, and tax information, as well as provide guidance with inventorying and securing personal items such as cars, trucks, boats, recreational vehicles, mobile homes, motorcycles, furniture, fine jewelry, art and personal contents of the home(s).
9. Accumulate information for inventory of intangible financial assets such as stocks, bonds, bank accounts, IRAs, CDs, cash, mortgages, notes, pensions, life insurance, etc.,
10. File and collect insurance claims as applicable – life, medical, health, disability, travel, accident, homeowners, car and/or credit.
11. Notify organizations providing retirement benefits, annuities and pensions of the death.
12. Advise on locating military records and recent income tax returns as appropriate.
13. Assist with filing for Social Security benefits, veteran’s burial and survivor benefits, fraternal, union and association benefits, and employer benefits, as appropriate.
14. Advise on opening an estate bank account to hold money owed to the deceased.
15. Assist with debts owed the decedent.
16. Assist with notifying banks and stockbrokers of the death and changing information for any jointly or solely held accounts, stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
17. Contact credit card companies and notify them of the death.
18. Help with creditor notification regarding the death.
19. Advise on creditor claims and requested payments, as appropriate.
20. Transfer assets to designated beneficiaries such as bank accounts and securities registered in “payable on death” form, real estate and other assets owned in joint tenancy, title for the deceased’s automobile, and funds in IRAs and retirement plans.
21. Help transfer assets held in testamentary trusts to named beneficiaries, as appropriate.
22. Assist with redeeming/re-titling government bonds, either by the beneficiary or estate administrator.
23. Help with arranging for management of the decedent’s business, as appropriate.
24. If the decedent was an artist, author, musician, composer, or other creative person, assist with arranging for the management of royalties and ongoing sales.
25. Provide guidance for establishing management of rental properties, as necessary.
26. Terminate leases and outstanding contracts on behalf of the Estate.
27. Advise on paying ongoing expenses, such as mortgage payments, utility bills, and homeowner’s insurance premiums, until an Estate property is sold or re-titled.
28. Assist with tax matters, including working with your accountant and/or preparing Estate tax returns.
29. Advise on record-keeping for all receipts, disbursements and time expended on behalf of the Estate.
30. Advise on property distribution to the beneficiaries and estate closure.
For more information on Probate matters and Executor responsibilities, contact Davis & McCann, P. A., Dodge City, KS. We are members of Wealth Counsel, a national consortium of Estate Planning Attorneys and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). We focus our practice on providing clients with the best legal advice on estate planning, Medicaid and long-term care planning, business formation, family business/small business succession planning, probate, trust administration, real estate, and related matters.
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