ElderLaw News-The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. — MD, VA, DC
ElderLaw News
ElderLaw News is a weekly e-newsletter that brings you reports of legal developments and other trends of vital interest to seniors and their advocates. This newsletter is brought to you by The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., William S. Fralin, Esq., President., William S. Fralin, Esq., President.

My Aunt Named Me the Executor of her Will – Now What?

Sometime ago, your Aunt Wilma called and asked whether you, her favorite niece, would be the executor of her Will.

She’s your favorite aunt, so you agreed. Unfortunately, she has now passed away and the rest of the family is looking to you for direction. Your siblings, cousins and other relatives, eager to help, want to empty out her house the weekend of the funeral and lay claim to various items in the home that they want. Other members of the family are asking you when they will get their shares of the estate and giving you “helpful” advice about going to the bank and taking all her money out so you won’t have to probate the Will. You are unsure what to do.

First, you need to find your Aunt Wilma’s original Will. Only an original Will can be probated without court intervention, which can be a lengthy and expensive process. If you are unsure where to look, you can check Aunt Wilma’s office, desk or home safe – wherever she kept her important papers. Another popular option for people is to place their Will in their safe deposit box. Hopefully, Aunt Wilma gave you signatory authority over her safe deposit box so you do not have to petition the court to have the box drilled. You can also try calling the attorney who drafted Aunt Wilma’s Will. He or she may have kept the original Will (although this practice is no longer the norm for many practitioners) or may have notes that indicate where Aunt Wilma stated she intended to keep her Will. Once the original Will is located, you may need to locate at least one of the witnesses, if there is not a self-proving affidavit attached to the Will.

Assuming you have a self-proving affidavit and the original Will, you will need an appointment with the appropriate probate clerk to qualify as the executor. At that appointment, you will need a reasonable estimate of the value of Aunt Wilma’s probate estate so that you can pay the applicable probate taxes (the estate can reimburse you later). You should probably spend some quiet time looking through Aunt Wilma’s papers and mail to get some sense of what she owned in her name alone. However, until you are qualified, you do not have any authority to act with respect to Aunt Wilma’s estate and this includes getting financial institutions to give you information about her assets. This fact alone should allow you to press the “pause” button on the relatives who are so eager to clean out Aunt Wilma’s house and claim her tangible personal property. And it will prevent you from trying to empty her bank accounts, which is a poor idea in any event.

The next step for you as the executor is to read and become familiar with the provisions of Aunt Wilma’s Will, if you haven’t already done so. It is your obligation as executor to administer her estate for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the estate as well as the creditors of the estate. You will need to be sure that you understand her wishes as to how she wants her estate to be distributed.

Then you, as the executor, need to identify and collect all the assets in Aunt Wilma’s estate. This means that all the assets in Aunt Wilma’s name alone need to be identified, valued and collected for safekeeping. You should also contact any life insurance carrier or retirement account custodian to determine who Aunt Wilma named as the beneficiary of her life insurance and retirement accounts. It is possible that the estate will be the beneficiary (in which case you will need to deal with it), or the beneficiary could be a named individual. You will likely need to obtain a taxpayer identification number for the estate so that you can create an estate checking account and re-title her investment accounts to the name of the estate. You also need to identify all the outstanding bills and debts that Aunt Wilma has left unpaid. You have the authority as executor to pay those debts and to dispute or negotiate them. However, a word of warning – if the probate estate assets are possibly insufficient to pay Aunt Wilma’s bills, tread carefully. Insolvent estates require careful handling to avoid personal liability for the executor. Professional legal advice is strongly recommended.

As you identify valid claims against the estate, assuming the estate has sufficient assets to pay the claims, you need to pay those claims. Don’t forget that you are responsible for filing Aunt Wilma’s final income tax and paying any tax that was owed. Depending on the circumstances you may also need to file an income tax return for the estate for the year(s) in which the estate remains open. Finally, once all the claims are paid, you need to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries named in Aunt Wilma’s Will and account for the administration of the estate to the Commissioner of Accounts who was assigned to this estate when you qualified as executor.

I have really just hit the highlights of your duties as executor of Aunt Wilma’s estate. The entire process can be complex, challenging and time-consuming and you can expect it take approximately a year to 18 months, depending on the complexity. At The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., we are happy to assist you through the process of estate administration and can even take over certain of the more daunting tasks for you. Our fees are generally payable as an estate administration expense from the assets of the estate and we take pride in using our expertise to minimize the costs as much as possible. And, hey – Aunt Wilma – if you are still reading this, think about whether you should come in and speak with one of our attorneys about creating a revocable living trust plan to spare your favorite niece the headache of dealing the probate system.


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The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C.

The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. is an elder law firm. We represent older persons, disabled persons, their families, and their advocates. The practice of elder law includes estate planning, estate and trust administration, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, titling of assets and designations of beneficiaries, guardianships, conservatorships, and public entitlements such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SSI, disability planning, income tax planning and preparation, care management, and fiduciary services. For more information about The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., please visit our website at http://www.chroniccareadvocacy.com.

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