A person’s last will and testament typically appoints an individual to serve as the executor or personal representative of the estate. The executor is required to file the will in probate court within 30 days after the decedent’s death. There are many steps and legal procedures involved in the probate process. As an executor of someone’s estate, you are likely grieving the loss of your friend or family member. Therefore, considering all the tasks you must complete can be overwhelming and daunting. However, by working with an attorney, this process can be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. The following are a few tips for how to handle the legal proceedings for this important responsibility:
By law, the Illinois Probate Act dictates that an executor must do all of the following during the probate process:
Ensure Loyalty and Care—The executor is required by law to administer the estate through the probate process in accordance with the desired wishes stated in the will. This means there should be no alterations to the will or improper interpretations of the will. Here is some practical advice for accomplishing this:
Read the will and make sure you understand the decedent’s final wishes. Ideally, reviewing and understanding the will should be done before the decedent’s passing so that any clarifications can be provided if the executor has questions.
Encourage the decedent to write a personal letter of direction for the executor before his or her death to further assist in the executor’s understanding of those final wishes.
If the decedent agrees to do this before death, the executor might want to discuss the will with the beneficiaries and other family members so that they know what to expect.
Pay Expenses, Settle Debts, and Meet Tax Obligations—For this step, the executor usually arranges for the burial and provides the necessary funds for burial expenses. In addition, if there are any outstanding debts or other financial issues that are not automatically resolved by letting the financial institution know of the decedent’s passing, the executor must act on behalf of the decedent to settle all those matters. An executor should be sure to order multiple copies of the death certificate, and these may need to be provided to financial institutions when settling or closing out any accounts.
Inventory All Assets and Inform Applicable Parties—The executor will need to take a comprehensive inventory of the decedent’s assets, including all property, payments, and distributions. This inventory must account for everything in the estate, and the records must be comprehensive, detailed, and accurate. Once the inventory is completed, the executor must provide it to any beneficiaries as well as the court.
Invest and Manage Funds—If the decedent had any assets in investments, the executor must determine the “prudent investment” of those funds.
Distribute Assets—After determining the inventory of assets, the executor must distribute them in accordance with the will. In many cases, it is best to open an estate account to keep track of all estate-related finances, including the payment of creditors and the distribution of assets. This can be complicated, so it is imperative for an executor to work with a probate lawyer who can help you better understand the process, organize appropriate records, and file the appropriate paperwork.
Final Reporting—The last step for an executor is to create a final report to be filed with the court and the beneficiaries, verifying that all taxes, expenses, and debts have been settled, and all assets have been distributed to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will.
These are the required steps an executor must follow based on the Illinois Probate Act. In addition, the “duties of loyalty and care” imply that any special requests and requirements discussed in the will must also be adhered to and enacted throughout the probate process.
If you are an executor of an estate, it is important to follow the directives in your loved one’s will precisely. Even if you have reviewed the decedent’s will and as the steps above, many questions can still arise during the probate process. The creative and experienced team at SBK Law Group can ensure that the administration of your loved one’s estate is as painless as possible for you and your family. Be sure to call our knowledgeable DuPage County estate attorneys today at 630-427-4407.